For a nation of just 20 million people, Australia is fiercely local in its outlook, there are very few moments that unite Melbourne with Sydney, that unite Toowoomba with Rockingham, Kangaroo Island with Magnetic Island.
Just look at our nightly news, a bloke being bashed outside a Traralgon servo is the top story, while the G7 summit is relegated to fifth on the bill.
We’re a local-first society — perhaps it is even a concern that so little unites us. Thankfully, one of those things is sport… just not the two major codes, whose fanbases remain fiercely state-based.
There was a time when the Wallabies were the beacon around which we gathered as a nation, but the decline of Union is too well-documented to bother going into detail about here. And cricket, while still a universal force, is at its lowest ebb for 20 years.
Watching the Socceroos is one of very few unifying moments in Australian society. And what moments they’ve given us. Perennial overachievers, delivering more than the sum of their parts is their MO — they’ve almost always managed to give us more than we deserved, and beyond that, they’ve somehow managed to embody everything that sets Australia apart. Its grit. Its tenacity. Its willingness to go toe-to-toe with anyone.
From the comeback against Japan, our staggering Asian Cup victory, Cahill’s volley against Holland, watching the Socceroos in major tournaments unfailingly gives birth to moments around which a naturally fragmented nation can come together.
And that’s what separates the World Cup from almost all other sporting spectacles for Australia. It is no surprise then, that we want the Socceroos to be a part of the World Cup for as long as possible. With that in mind, let’s look at the Socceroos first group game.
Socceroos vs France
Australia’s first mission in France, could hardly be tougher. Bert’s men face the supremely talented French in Kazan.
It’s no understatement to say that France has the second most talented squad at the World Cup, behind only Brazil.
The only questions are about potential disunity in the squad, and the managerial chops of Didier Deschamps.
France’s pre-tournament friendlies started in convincing fashion with comfortable wins over Russia, Ireland and most notably, Italy, 3-1. But a 1-1 draw against a weak USA side has showed they’re far from an irresistible force.
Griezmann looked their best threat, dropping deep to receive the ball between midfield and defence, while Pogba managed to fashion himself a couple of opportunities from range.
Julian Green pounced on a poor touch from French wingback Djibril Sidibe to open the scoring for the US and in one, stark moment revealled France’s biggest weakness: the defensive acumen of its wingbacks. In Tommy Rogic, Daniel Arzani and Matt Leckie, the Socceroos certainly have the pace to stretch France, if we can add some late-arriving midfielders, counterattacking looks our best option.
On paper the pressure France exerted on the US looks massive — with 69% possession, 19 shots, and no less than nine corners — but in reality there were fairly few clear cut chances, and the US’s congested, structured defence meant most of those shots came from range. Seeing that will have warmed Bert’s cockles — because in Mile Jedinak, he has exactly the man to marshall such a defensive effort.
What’s more, the US had the ball in the back of the net at the start of the second half after a low cross turned in by Bobby Wood was ruled out for offside. The French fullbacks yet again their weak spot.
The US resistance finally yielded in the 78th minute after Mbappe found space in the 18-yard box and turned in a precise cutback cross. The PSG man is a lethal force, but went down in training this week, and while he should play, there’s a chance he might not be 100%.
Forgive the cliche, but as their game against the US progressed France looked increasingly like a team of stars, as opposed to a star team. They struggled to create good chances and relied on individual brilliance to carve out shooting opportunities.
Their fans, also, are among the least patient in world football. If Bert’s men can get to halftime at nil-nil, and frustrate France for the opening 15 of the second term — you’ve got to imagine they’ll start to commit more men forward, leaving them vulnerable to a well-timed sucker punch counter attack.
If you’re desperate to back the Socceroos in the correct score market — Australia 1-0 is $26.
If France score early though — it’s hard to imagine anything other than a comfortable French victory. You get the feeling they’ll sit back and could pick off another goal easily. France 2-0 is $5.50.
Griezmann is fav to net first at $4.20 — and is value at that price.
Pogba looks like he’ll be shooting for fun at this tournament, and if he starts in midfield with Kante expect him to roam forward at will. He’s value at $8.50 too.
If you think the Socceroos might spring a surprise, Matt Leckie at $26 or Andrew Nabbout at $20 are two you could look at for first goalscorer.
If you’re having a dip at a SGM, a draw at halftime, France to win, under 2.5 goals, and Griezman to score anytime is $14.75. Yes please.