Five things we learned: Socceroos v France

A late deflected goal from Paul Pogba saw France overcome a spirited Australia in the opening Group C match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Here are five things we spotted at the Kazan Arena on Saturday.

Jedinak and Hernandez

Source: Getty Images

So close, yet so far.

Australia looked destined for an impressive draw with World Cup heavyweights France, after a penalty apiece within four minutes had the teams at level pegging during the second half.

But an 81st minute strike from Manchester United star Paul Pogba, deflected onto the top post by Aziz Behich and only narrowly crossing the line as it bounced downwards, saw Les Bleus claim all three points.

It was a disappointing result for an Australian team that held level with the French for most of the match.

Here are five things we learned at Kazan Arena.

1. Van Marwijk cracks the midfield riddle – almost

Australia manager Bert van Marwijk was keeping mum about his midfield selection during Friday’s pre-match press conference.

But when the team sheet was finally released, suggestions that captain Mile Jedinak was to be dropped – fueled by his late withdraw from the media opportunity – turned out to be unfounded.

Jedinak and Aaron Mooy did an excellent job at the base of Australia’s midfield, consistently breaking up attempted attacks from France’s potent forward-line.

Jedinak was also calm under pressure to convert the penalty – his 19th goal for the Socceroos.

The only disappointment in the centre was Tom Rogic, who was anonymous for most of the game and ultimately replaced by Jackson Irvine midway through the second half.

2. Australia prospers on the flanks

In recent years, the wings have not been the most productive of areas for the Socceroos.

It is a long time since the national team had Harry Kewell bursting down the flank, and none of the exciting recent prospects in that position have yet fulfilled their potential (Awer Mabil, anyone?).

Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie may do a creditable job, but they hardly inspire fear in the opposition full-backs.

On Saturday, though, the Socceroos found success out wide.

Behich linked well with Kruse on the left-hand side, while Josh Risdon and Mathew Leckie looked solid on the right.

They still lacked the cutting edge, but Australia’s movement on the flanks was much improved on recent performances.

3. Ryan continues Australian goalkeeping tradition

Australia has been blessed in recent generations with excellent goalkeepers.

Mark Bosnich, Zeljko Kalac and Mark Schwarzer have all served both club and country with a safe pair of gloves.

That tradition showed no sign of abating on Saturday, with Mathew Ryan in excellent form against a formidable French attack.

The Brighton& Hove Albion custodian was called into action immediately, calmly collecting a French strike after barely one minute of action.

In total Les Bleus managed 13 shots against Australia, with six on target and only one (plus the penalty) finding its mark.

While Ryan was caught slightly off his line for Pogba’s winner, he was otherwise hard to fault – and would have struggled in any event to save the ball as bounced off the inside of the top corner.

If Australia are to have any hope from progressing from Group C in Russia, Ryan will need to be on form again when the Socceroos meet Denmark and Peru in the coming weeks.

4. Deschamps is a man without a plan

The French team possesses an almost-embarrassing abundance of riches.

Their collective value is astronomical: according to The Telegraph, France has the most expensive squad at the World Cup, worth over $1.6 billion.

Manager Didier Deschamps has at his disposal some of the most talented individual players in the world.

Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé – France’s 23-man squad is eye-watering.

And yet for much of their opening World Cup encounter, the French team looked listless.

Pogba sprayed misplaced shots around the park, Mbappé and Griezmann struggled to effectively combine.

While Pogba’s late strike ultimately sealed the match for France, Deschamps will need to find considerable improvement within his team if they are to have any hope of progressing to the latter rounds of the 2018 World Cup.

5. Empty seats, vocal fans

Despite France v Australia being Kazan’s first taste of 2018 FIFA World Cup action, there were more than a few empty seats at the 45,000-capacity Kazan Arena.

The official attendance was just 41,279.

As is often the case, the empty seats were particularly prominent in the corporate hospitality boxes and in the most expensive, Category A front-row seating.

Australian fans, though, were in full voice throughout the match.

Five seating sections were solid blocks of yellow, while the Socceroos’ colour was also conspicuously dotted elsewhere in the ground.

The green and gold army were even treated to some full-blast ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work prior to kick-off.

Saturday’s result might not have been a happy one for Australian fans, but they will need to be in full voice again against Denmark on Thursday.

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5 min read
Published 16 June 2018 at 10:39pm
By Kieran Pender in Kazan