Les Bleus will be the latest nation trying to break the hoodoo of the World Cup champions. The last nation to retain the title were Brazil in 1962, so it seems unlikely that France will be able to repeat that trick, but the recent record of defending champions is well known to be woeful. Germany failed to get out of the groups in Russia, that made it four in the last five after Spain, Italy, and France themselves also suffered the same fate the tournament after being crowned.
There does remain the possibility that this could happen again of course. However, France have continued their, frankly, ridiculous record of producing talented footballers. Didier Deschamps certainly had plenty of tough decisions to make to whittle his squad down to 26, and in reality, a French second or third squad would be able to field a team better team than the one that Australia will put onto the field on Tuesday.
That is the scale of the task ahead of Graham Arnold’s Socceroos. In qualifying there were some worrying trends that surfaced for the Green and Gold. Goalscoring has been an issue for Australia — whenever they faced one of the better teams in their qualification in Asia they struggled to create chances. Arnold’s options in creative areas are limited. Ajdin Hrustic of Hellas Verona is probably the Socceroos’ best method to create something, but Mathew Leckie (13) is the only player in the squad with over 10 international goals. Leckie is playing his domestic football back home in Australia now and, at 31, his peak is probably behind him, but there is little talent to take over from him either.
There are as many Australian squad members plying their trade in the Scottish Premiership as there are in the Australian A-League. Indeed, Heart of Midlothian contribute three Socceroos to the squad, the same number as Central Coast Mariners.
France have only won one out of their last six matches, all of which came in the Nations League. However, they qualified for the finals with an unbeaten record. Olivier Giroud is two goals away from matching Thierry Henry’s all-time goalscoring record for the men’s French national team, and his chances of playing an integral part in the tournament grew with the unfortunate news of Karim Benzema’s injury which has ruled the Real Madrid man out of the World Cup.
While Benzema’s presence, and his goalscoring prowess, will surely be missed former PSG midfielder Diego Lugano has made the bold claim that the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner’s absence may make some of his teammates happy.
“I am certain, because I was a teammate with some of them, (there are players from France) who are very happy with the departure of Benzema,” he told ESPN Brasil.
“This would never happen in Uruguay, Brazil or Argentina… It depends a lot on the way the team was put together and on the care that the coach has with the player profiles, not only technically, but [in terms of] personalities. It has a lot to do with do with that.”