Big names missing, but World Cup holders France still look strong at start of title defence

Sports Tuesday 22/November/2022 05:01 AM
By: xinhua
Big names missing, but World Cup holders France still look strong at start of title defence

DOHA: World Cup holders France will kick off their title defense on Tuesday with what looks as if it should be a relatively straightforward opener against the Australian side that booked the ticket to Qatar with a nerve-jangling play-off win on penalties against Peru.

The French have suffered several injury setbacks, with long-term injuries forcing N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba to miss the finals, while Karim Benzema's thigh injury saw him fly back to Spain on Sunday morning.

The absence of Benzema weakens an attack that also lost Christopher Nkunku, but a look at the firepower that Didier Deschamps will still be able to field against the 'Aussies' implies that if anyone can afford to suffer injuries, it's the French, and that is probably why Deschamps has opted against calling a late replacement into his squad.

Kylian Mbappe is a certain starter, with Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann likely to be in the starting 11 and FC Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele also having opportunities.

Giroud is likely to be especially motivated as his 49 goals for France leave him just two behind Thierry Henry to become his country's all-time record goalscorer.

The only question mark over the French is in their recent form as they won just one of their five UEFA Nations League games in June and September, although that could perhaps be put down to tiredness after a frantic fixture calendar.

The Australians arrive in Qatar having only made it out of the group stage once in five attempts, with Guus Hiddink's side making it to the last 16 in 2006, when current coach Graham Arnold was Hiddink's assistant.

They have also been affected by injury, with young Melbourne City winger Marco Tilio called up to replace Martin Boyle, and Arnold has highlighted the 21-year-old's performances in the Tokyo Olympics and also in the A-League this season.

Australian goalkeeper Matt Ryan has spent much of the season on the bench at Copenhagen, but this will be his third World Cup and his experience will be vital on what is likely to be a busy night.