Socceroos’ World Cup rival France names squad missing some big names
Australia's most difficult opponent at the upcoming World Cup, France, has named a provisional 23-man squad with several big names missing, but plenty of quality to challenge the Socceroos.
In-form attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet was ruled out after sustaining a muscle injury in Marseille's 3-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in last week's Europa League final.
Coach Didier Deschamps also left Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette out of the squad for Russia, while Manchester United's Anthony Martial also failed to make the cut.
France World Cup squad
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda
Defenders: Lucas Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Mendy, Benjamin Pavard, Adil Rami, Djibril Sidibe, Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane
Midfielders: N'golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Steven N'zonzi, Paul Pogba, Corentin Tolisso
Forwards: Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Florian Thauvin
The absence of this trio is not the end of the Socceroos' worries, however.
The French can still call on a strike force of Antoine Griezmann — who scored twice in the Europa League final — Chelsea's Olivier Giroud and Paris St Germain forward Kylian Mbappe.
Les Bleus scored 18 goals and conceded just six in their World Cup campaign as they topped Group A with 23 points from 10 games.
Of those 18 goals, Griezmann and Giroud scored four each; midfielder Paul Pogba, winger Thomas Lemar and forwards Kevin Gameiro and Payet (the latter two have not made the squad) scored twice each; and PSG young gun Mbappe and midfielder Blaise Matuidi grabbed one goal apiece.
The bottom line is that France has such a strong cast of players that Les Bleus are capable of scoring from up front or through midfield, giving them plenty of attacking options.
France at the World Cup finals
- World Cup appearances: 15 (including Russia 2018)
- Best World Cup finish: Won the Cup in 1998
- Most goals scored: Just Fontaine – 13 (1958)
Their defence is also strong, with the likes of Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy and Barcelona's Samuel Umtiti — not to mention ironman midfielder N'golo Kante from Chelsea, who has incredible energy, ball-winning abilities and skills at stopping attacks before they reach the last third.
France's only loss in qualifying came at the Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden in June last year, as the Swedes scored a late goal to beat the French 2-1.
In injury time, with the score 1-1, French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris lost his composure dealing with a back pass, and made a poor clearance which went straight to Sweden's Ola Toivonen, who smashed the ball back past a stranded keeper from the halfway line.
You can't count on the French making those kinds of errors too often, however — Les Bleus bounced back from the loss, earning 10 out of a possible 12 points in their last four games to secure qualification.
Arsenal striker Lacazette, who scored 14 goals in 32 Premier League appearances this season, features in a list of 11 players on stand-by should one of the 23 men selected by Deschamps get injured before the coach hands his list to FIFA on June 4, 10 days before the start of the tournament in Russia.
There is no such hope for Payet, however.
"He was a serious candidate for a place in the 23 but for this kind of injury it's usually three weeks of recovery," Deschamps said.
"And there is a risk of hurting yourself again with this kind of injury and I must give my final list to FIFA on June 4."
World Cup Group C
- France (15th finals appearance)
- Australia (fifth finals appearance)
- Peru (fifth finals appearance)
- Denmark (fifth finals appearance)
As expected, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is not in the squad after being snubbed since being involved in a sex tape blackmail scandal in 2015.
"Players have repaid my faith and I put the group above everything," Deschamps said.
Martial is also on stand-by as Deschamps preferred Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele.
"Like every time, some players will play, others will not play at all. The most important thing is the life of the group," Deschamps said.
Les Bleus — who take on Australia, Denmark and Peru in Group C — begin their training camp on May 23, with only Varane missing out on the start as he will play in the Champions League final for Real Madrid three days later.
The Socceroos will wait until closer to the June 4 deadline for coach Bert van Marwijk to announce the final 23 players, after revealing a controversial 26-man squad that did not include in-form striker Jamie Maclaren.