France take on Australia in midfield at the World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Even without the injured Karim Benzema, defend the world cup champion of France has a lot of offensive power.

Most teams would love to have Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann or Olivier Giroud in their front row, let alone all three. They have 119 international goals between them, as well as an abundance of speed, craft, experience and skill.

But France don’t have the same reassurances in midfield, and that’s where Australia could trouble Les Bleus in their Group D opener on Tuesday.

France struggled to beat Australia 2-1 when the sides met in their World Cup opener four years ago, and that was with a full-strength midfield .

French coach Didier Deschamps is without injured N’Golo Kante. and Paul Pogba – his dynamic engine room from 2018. Pogba played 91 times for France and one of his 11 goals came in the 4-2 win over Croatia in the 2018 final.

While Pogba’s form has been up and down since then, Kante’s consistency has rarely dropped and he’s arguably an even bigger loss.

A tireless runner with an incredible ability to close space, surface from anywhere to win the ball and then release it cleanly, Kante is one of the finest defensive midfielders in world football. But he’s recovering from hamstring surgery and won’t add anything to his 53 international caps.

So Deschamps takes on Australia with a revamped midfield where the most experienced player is Adrien Rabiot – Pogba’s teammate at Italian club Juventus – with 29 appearances.

Rabiot, 27, finally feels ready to become the new leader of the French midfield.

“When I played in the France youth team, I was often more experienced than my teammates. Now I find myself in a similar position,” he said. “I feel that I am able to help others, to lead by example. I like being in this position.

It’s a turnaround for Rabiot, who four years ago actually asked to be taken off the reserve list. for the 2018 World Cup. He was dropped for more than two years by Deschamps, who called his decision a “big mistake”.

Now, Rabiot will likely line up on the left of a three-man midfield at the Al Janoub stadium with 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni in the center and 23-year-old Eduardo Camavainga or Matteo Guendouzi on the right.

Tchouameni impressed for France, but he only played 14 times for the Blues, and never in a major tournament. Neither Guendouzi, who has made six appearances, nor Camavinga, 20.who only made four.

For Juventus this season, Rabiot is scoring and assisting more regularly and playing an increasingly important role which he hopes to transfer to the national team.

“It’s a big responsibility that I’m ready to take on,” he said. “I’d rather be in this position than not be in this team.”

A physically imposing player, Rabiot is a strong runner with excellent ball-holding technique, good passing range and is strong in the air – which could trouble the Australian defense from free-kicks and corners.

Real Madrid paid 100 million euros ($97 million) to sign Tchouameni from Monaco in the offseason. Similar to Pogba, he’s a lean, athletic player with a confident first touch who sprays short or long passes with equal effect.

But Australia also have a strong midfield, led by experienced Aaron Mooy – a tough tackle and capable passer who played two seasons in the Premier League with Brighton and made 53 appearances.

Mathew Leckie was Australia’s best player at the 2014 World Cup and poses a threat from the wing. Leckie, 31, is also the national team’s top scorer with 13 international goals.

Leckie and Mooy both started against France four years ago.

But Australian coach Graham Arnold’s plans for that game were shattered when winger Martin Boyle withdrew with a knee injury on Sunday. Boyle has a decent goalscoring record with five goals in 19 appearances for Australia.

“We all feel for Martin and this is a cruel blow for him,” Arnold said. “He was an integral part of our journey to get to Qatar.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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