Can you guess? Continue. That’s right, it’s warm and dry in Al Wakrah with temperatures in the low to mid 20s. Fans and players will be cooled by air conditioning in the stadium.
“As someone who grew up on the reliable magic of Tim Cahill’s World Cup and is trying to forget the 2018 version of the Socceroos, I think the best I can expect from the boys is a bit of fighting spirit and to frustrate the world champions for as long as possible. we can keep them.” Ezra Finkelstein there with an email that I think sums up the feelings of many Australian fans.
On Australian TV the two main analysts are former internationals John Aloisi and Craig Foster and they have just delivered an excellent tactical package detailing Graham Arnold’s game plan. Expect a very low block, long diagonal balls to Duke standing in one of the channels to allow his supporting attackers to feed off him, and a reliance on Souttar off the ball.
In case you’re just waking up in Australia and slowly getting into the action, here’s a quick overview of what’s already happened in Qatar. In short: six teams, three goals, one penalty saved and twists and turns.
Simon McMahon got in touch with Mandarin pride, telling me: “Australian Aziz Behich joined Dundee United this summer and tonight will become the first current United player to start a World Cup finals game in, well, probably a while. Not quite Malpas, Gough, Narey, Bannon and Sturrock at Mexico 86, but still. Harry Souttar also started his professional career at Tannadice, so go United and go Australia!”
The Socceroos’ ties to Scotland run deep, very deep.
Referee: South African Victor Gomes will play today. He oversaw the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final between Senegal and Egypt and won plaudits for reporting bribery in a CAF Confederations Cup match.
It is also worth mentioning the fourth referee Salim Mukansang, one of the six officials in this tournament.
France and Australia and sports, you say? This can only mean that Richie Benaud is chewing the fat in Île-de-France, wearing his iconic cream/bone/white/off-white/ivory/beige jacket. And some elephants.
Of course, it is only fair to share some content from France.
Emma Kemp is our Australian eyes and ears on the pitch in Qatar and has been busy reporting on all things Socceroo.
There are fewer familiar names in the Australian gold but Graham Arnold has named an experienced spine starting with former Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan, Stoke City centre-half Harry Souttar, Celtic midfielder Aaron Mooy and combative line-leader Mitchell Duke.
It remains to be seen how this XI will threaten such a powerful opponent, but expect sets to be important. The 198cm Souttar has six goals in his 10 international caps and will be the focal point whenever Australia win a corner or an attacking free-kick.
France’s injury problems are well-reported, but even without taking a deep breath: Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema, Rafael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe and Christopher Nkunku, Didier Deschamps named an imposing starting XI.
He went for a youthful and attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with a fast pace. Good luck keeping up with Dembele and Mbappe on the break.
Tonight’s game offers us the first glimpse of that Al Janoub Stadium in the city of Al Wakrah, a little south of Doha CBD. The field holds 40,000 fans and was designed by the late Zaha Hadid.
“The resemblance of the Qatar stadium to the private parts of a woman’s body may be unintentional, but I applaud it,” wrote Holly Baxter a few years ago. “With its shiny, pink hue, lip-like side appendages and large opening in the middle, the supposedly innocent building (based on the design of a traditional Qatari dhow boat) was just asking for trouble.”
For her part, Hadid rejected such proposals as “ridiculous” and “shameful”.
Hello everyone and welcome to the live coverage of World Cup 2022 match eight, France vs Australia from Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah. Kick-off for this Group D encounter is at 10pm local time (6am AEDT/7pm GMT).
For the second consecutive tournament, France and Australia open their campaigns against each other. In Kazan four years ago, the eventual champions claimed a 2-1 victory with a late winner dropped. They expect a routine three points tonight.
There will be a few more striking mismatches throughout the tournament, at least on paper. France are the holders of the World Cup and the winners of the UEFA Nations League in 2021. Even without some notable absentees, Les Bleus boast a squad as strong and talented as any in the competition, with a long-standing coach able to fit a squad with proven players and the best prospects in the game.
Australia, by contrast, are ranked 38th by FIFA and needed a 20-match odyssey to qualify, one of which ended with a penalty shootout victory over Peru. Only four members of Graham Arnold’s squad have more than 50 caps (half of the group have 10 caps or less) and only two have signed for clubs in any of Europe’s top five leagues. “I don’t know any of the players individually,” Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté said on Sunday.
France will look to Kylian Mbappé, a man valued at hundreds of millions of dollars with a proven pedigree at the World Cup, for inspiration; Australia to Celtic assistant Aaron Mooy, one of six Socceroos based in Scotland.
“You can tell our players don’t play in the best leagues in the world, and all their players do,” Arnold said this week. “But it’s about team spirit, it’s about bonding 11 players – and 26 players – together in a family environment, making sure they’re friends and have each other’s backs. Then you can achieve special results.”
But as far-fetched as the result may seem, it still has to be earned, and France know from bitter experience how a World Cup campaign can unravel – especially as defending champions. Additionally, it suits Arnold’s character to tap into the “little Aussie fighter” trope. “We have Aussie DNA,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and fight, hit and scratch, do whatever it takes.”
There is about an hour until the start so feel free to spend that time emailing me. Or, if you haven’t jumped ship yet, tweet me @JPHowcroft.