The Weekend Preview is a blog that aims to provide a different angle on the narrative of an upcoming sporting event.

FIFA World Cup: France vs. Australia

FIFA World Cup: France vs. Australia

Saturday Afternoon, 16th June 2018 at Kazan Arena, Kazan 

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2002 FIFA World Cup

91 mins The whistles are ringing out around the stadium. The ball falls to Henry in the Senegal box and he wins a corner. Petit takes, the ball comes to Leboeuf who fails to atone for his sins. He shoots an excellent chance straight at Sylva again.

92 mins Full-time.

In their World Cup debut, Senegal have stunned the world champions in one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. Needless to say, the players are thrilled. They rode their luck at times, but fully deserved their win.

The Guardian [1]

 Figure-1: 2002 FIFA World Cup, France vs. Senegal

Figure-1: 2002 FIFA World Cup, France vs. Senegal

Video-1: 2002 FIFA World Cup, France vs. Senegal

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2010 FIFA World Cup

That's it. Their ordeal – our ordeal – is over. No longer must we support this team whose whims drained us all. Les Bleus are eliminated and got what they deserved: they were ridiculous till the end. At no point did this team show the slightest trace of a soul.

L’equipe [2]

France are out … the World Cup has lost its jesters. For the first time in French history, the public and the players greet an exit with relief. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that "in football, everything is complicated by the presence of an opponent" but this French team showed you don't necessarily need an opponent – they were able to sabotage themselves.

Le Monde [2]

Easily beaten by a very modest South African team, Les Bleus left the tournament by the same way they came in: by the back door. After spending the weekend playing at being trade unionists and special agents, they forgot to play football. Physically and psychologically unprepared, they simply couldn't put one foot in front of the other.

France football [2]

 Figure-2: 2010 FIFA World Cup, France vs. South Africa

Figure-2: 2010 FIFA World Cup, France vs. South Africa

Video-2: 2010 FIFA World Cup, France vs. South Africa (Part 1)

Video-3: 2010 FIFA World Cup, France vs. South Africa (Part 2)

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2018 FIFA World Cup

France enters the 2018 FIFA World Cup as one of the 8 top seeded teams (the top 7 ranked countries plus the host nation). If all things go to plan, this would mean these 8 teams would not need to face each other until the Quarterfinals. And with the talent at their disposal, France is favoured to make it to the Quarterfinals at the very least. But intriguingly, despite their pedigree and often favourable draw, France has made a habit of turning every second world cup campaign into a disaster:

  • 1994: Failed to qualify
  • 1998: Champions
  • 2002: Exit Group Stage as tournament favourites
  • 2006: Finalist
  • 2010: Exit Group Stage after team self implodes on and off the pitch
  • 2014: Quarter-Finalist (losing to eventual champions Germany)
  • 2018: ?????

So can Australia capitalise on this ticking time bomb? Well unfortunately, Australia’s record in the last 3 World Cups against the top seeded team from their group is not great – 3 losses, 9 goals conceded, 0 goals scored. With this kind of record, it is with trepidation that Australian football supporters look ahead to Australia's opening fixture with Les Bleus. But when is the best time to play them? In their first match before France have found their groove? Or perhaps in the third match in the hope they have already qualified and are resting some of their star players? In actual fact, historically (since the world cup was expanded to the current 32 team format) the seeded team of a group is most vulnerable in their second game, where they have a win rate of only 55%. The record for the seeded team’s first and third matches are nearly identical, with the seeded team winning about 70% of the time. So, unfortunately for Australia there appears to be no great advantage of playing France first.

 Figure-3: Performance of Seeded Teams in Group Stage – 1998-2014

Figure-3: Performance of Seeded Teams in Group Stage – 1998-2014

 Figure-4:  2006 FIFA World Cup, Brazil vs. Australia

Figure-4:  2006 FIFA World Cup, Brazil vs. Australia

 Figure-5:  2010 FIFA World Cup, Germany vs. Australia

Figure-5:  2010 FIFA World Cup, Germany vs. Australia

 Figure-5:  2014 FIFA World Cup, Spain vs. Australia

Figure-5:  2014 FIFA World Cup, Spain vs. Australia

Stuck with the scenario of playing France first, what does that mean for the prospects of Australia progressing from the group? Well, first of all, if Australia do manage to get a draw or even a win against France, the prospects are good. Of the 12 teams to earn a draw or win against the seeded team in the first match, 10 have progressed to the Second Round. The exceptions were Switzerland in 2010 (upsetting eventual champions Spain 1-0) and Belgium in 1998 (drawing 0-0 with the Netherlands).

But as has already been discussed, Australia’s record against the best team in a group is poor and they are heavy underdogs to even get a draw against France. So what does a loss mean? It means that Australia will need to play catch-up and forces their second match against Denmark into a must-win encounter. And if Denmark win their first match, they will also have the strategic upper hand knowing that Australia need the 3-points and have to come at them. And in the last 5 World Cups (32-team format), only 5 of 28 teams (18%) have progressed to the Second Round after losing to the top seeded team in their group.

There is also the goal difference concern. The last time Australia played the top seeded team in their first game was against Germany in 2010. On that occasion, Australia was on the wrong end of a 4-0 thumping. The score line in the end proved to be crucial, as Australia missed out on progressing from the group on goal difference only.

So aside from them finding a new way to self implode, France's star-studded line-up across each line of the team will likely be too much for Australia to handle. But for Australia’s sake, let’s just hope it is not another 4-0 score line.

 Figure-7:  Match Odds, 2018 FIFA World Cup, France vs. Australia

Figure-7:  Match Odds, 2018 FIFA World Cup, France vs. Australia

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[1] Glendenning, B. (2002). “France 0 – 1 Senegal”, The Guardian Minute-by-Minute, Link: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/may/31/minutebyminute.worldcupfootball2002

[2] The Guardian (2010).“World Cup 2010: French press rages after first round exit”. The Guardian, 23 June 2010. Link:
https://www.theguardian.com/football/2010/jun/23/french-press-world-cup-2010

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Recommended Reading:

For a tactical preview of the game, checkout the following blog: http://timpalmerfootball.com/blog/2018/06/15/world-cup-2018-france-opposition-scouting-report/

FIFA World Cup: Australia vs. Denmark

FIFA World Cup: Australia vs. Denmark

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