France kick off their World Cup title defence against Australia this evening in what looks like a Group D mismatch at the Al Janoub Stadium. Even without injured big-name trio N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema, Didier Deschamps’ side should still have sufficient class to ensure Australia are signing Les Blues at full time.
As per the usual routine, I’ve got a stats pack for this evening’s contest below which is jam-packed with info on xG, shots, cards, corners and more from the teams’ World Cup qualification campaigns. Hopefully, the data presented here and the information in my Stats Pack Guide can help you to compile smarter bet builder coupons later on.
Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe and Karim Benzema were all added to a star-laden French injury list alongside N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba in the lead up to the World Cup, though the pool of talent in France is deep.
Raphael Varane should be fit enough to start at centre-half, while Real Madrid pair Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni could line up in midfield with Adrien Rabiot. With Benzema out, Olivier Giroud should be given the nod up front.
Hibernian’s Martin Boyle was ruled out with a knee injury on the eve of Australia’s World Cup bow in Qatar, though Ajdin Hrustic’s availability in midfield is a major boost for the Socceroos.
Full-backs Nathaniel Atkinson and Aziz Behich both play their club football in Scotland with Hearts and Dundee United respectively, while centre-halves Bailey Wright (Sunderland) and Harry Souttar (Stoke) are based in the English Championship.
France limped their way through their Nations League campaign in the summer, though Les Blues cantered to World Cup qualification in UEFA Group D and were unbeaten in their eight assignments.
They packed a punch in the final third, hitting 2.25 goals and 14.90 shots per 90 and they were near immaculate defensively, conceding just three times and allowing opponents to clock a meagre 0.77 xG (p/90) against them.
France’s qualification fixtures were also remarkably low on cards and they collected just two of them in total in their last four group games.
Australia’s journey to Qatar was knottier than France’s and the Socceroos had to pick their way through two separate groups and two playoff fixtures to book their place at World Cup 2022.
Australia played over twice as many qualification matches as France and while the underlying stats they posted along the way make for impressive reading at first glance, there is a slight misrepresentation at play.
In their first group against weak opponents, Australia averaged 3.5 goals and conceded just 0.25 times per game, though those figures regressed to 1.5 and 0.9 when they entered a tougher section alongside Japan and Saudi Arabia shortly after.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Kylian Mbappe was a World Cup winner at just 19 in Russia four years ago and big things are expected again from a more mature version of the PSG forward in 2022. Mbappe posted a superb 3.68 shots and 2.13 shots on target per 90 minutes in France’s qualification fixtures and he should be just as impactful in Qatar.
The loss of Karim Benzema is significant, though Antoine Griezmann (2.35 shots p/90) and Olivier Giroud (3.83) have enough talent to compensate. Griezmann lodged a game-high five attempts when France played Australia in the Group Stage at the last World Cup in Russia.
Jamie Maclaren (3.03 shots per 90), Adam Taggart (2.44), Awer Mabil (2.86) and Verona schemer Hrustic (1.86) all brought considerable threat to the table for Australia during their qualifiers.
Taggart didn’t travel to Qatar, though Newcastle-bound Garang Kuol did and the 18-year-old is explosive enough to be a dangerous wild card off the bench. Centre-back Harry Souttar (1.22 shots per/90) wins a lot of first contacts from set pieces and he could be worth a flutter at longer odds in the shot markets today.
Player Goals and Assists
Antoine Griezmann (six goals) and Kylian Mbappe (five) did much of the heavy lifting in attack for France during their successful qualification run, though Mbappe out-scored Griezmann (2-0) in the Nations League over the summer.
France don’t tend to get many goals from midfield, in fact, 18 of their last 22 goals were dispatched by strikers with Mbappe, Giroud and Benzema accounting for 16 of those efforts between them.
Jamie Maclaren was Australia’s most-lethal finisher during their qualification run and the Melbourne City attacker finished his campaign with more goals than games. Maclaren has won the A-League’s Golden Boot for three seasons on the spin in his homeland.
Defender Harry Souttar built up a hugely impressive tally from centre-half – something that will confuse Stoke City supporters who’ve seen the 24-year-old notch just once in 65 league appearances for the Potters. Mitchell Duke’s strike rate (five goals in four starts) was excellent, while midfielders Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustic were the Socceroos’ goal-scoring heroes in their playoff tussle with UAE.
France’s impressively clean disciplinary record during their World Cup qualifiers suggests it could be tough to pick out viable card candidates this evening.
Raphael Varane – who hasn’t played any football since coming off injured against Chelsea on October 22nd – might be a little sluggish on his return to competitive action, while Benjamin Pavard, who has been booked four times in games for France since summer 2021, could be worth considering.
In midfield, anchorman Aurelien Tchouameni averaged 2.2 tackles per game during the recent Nations League tournament and his penchant for sticking his boot in could draw attention from the officials.
With Martin Boyle out injured and Tom Rogic and Adam Taggart high-profile omissions from Australia’s squad, we have to get creative when selecting the Socceroos’ card-drawing candidates.
As the team’s chief goal-scorer, Jamie Maclaren could have an out-of-match practice Varane on his toes, while key midfielder Ajdin Hrustic (fouled 1.78 times per/90) should have the physically imposing Tchouameni to contend with. Mathew Leckie could be the Australian forward deployed closest to card-happy Benjamin Pavard in another duel with a sniff of caution-producing potential.
Match-Ups to watch
Raphael Varane vs Jamie Maclaren
Aurelien Tchouameni vs Ajdin Hrustic
Benjamin Pavard vs Mathew Leckie
With Australia likely to be pinned back in their own defensive third for much of this evening’s Group D encounter, their tackle, foul and card count should be much higher than France’s.
Harry Souttar was carded twice and committed 0.91 fouls per 90 during the Socceroos’ qualification adventure and having just returned from injury, the 24-year-old will almost certainly lack sharpness.
In midfield, Ajdin Hrustic (three cards) and Jackson Irvine (1.14 fouls p/90) should have plenty of screening and harrying tasks to perform and both players look like strong card contenders today. Irvine has been cautioned six times in just 16 league runouts for his club St. Pauli in Germany this term.
Kylian Mbappe’s scorching pace should set knees knocking in the Australian backline today and Harry Souttar’s record suggests he’s the likeliest defender to cut the 23-year-old down.
In midfield, Juventus’ regular Adrien Rabiot (fouled 1.27 times p/90) tends to draw quite a few fouls and his skirmish with Hrustic should be of interest.
Elsewhere, keep an eye on Antoine Griezmann in the pocket between midfield and attack. His creativity and eye for a defence-splitting pass should make him a target for Australia’s Jackson Irvine this evening.
Match-Ups to watch
Harry Souttar vs Ousmane Dembele
Ajdin Hrustic vs Kylian Mbappe
Jackson Irvine vs Aurelien Tchouameni