The fact that France doesn’t know the first thing about the Socceroos speaks volumes for how easy it is to ambush supposed heavyweights at the World Cup.
Football is rife with silly national stereotypes, and you never hear them trotted out more frequently than at a World Cup.
You know what France thinks about Daniel Arzani? They’ll think he’s a strong, physically dominant midfielder who never gives up but is technically limited.
Maybe Les Bleus’ technical staff will at some point glance at the video to discern the difference between Arzani and Andrew Nabbout, but the players sure as hell won’t be bothered.
That’s why France have barely had a single word to say about the Socceroos in the build-up to the game, other than to call Australian players “very rough” – all the better to alert the referee that the French are delicate multi-millionaires who must be protected at all costs.
One of the worst refereeing performances we’ve ever seen at a World Cup was Markus Merk’s baffling display in Munich in 2006, when the German referee awarded every conceivable decision against the Socceroos – even when Brazil had clearly fouled an Australian player.
So it’s a given that every fifty-fifty decision will go against the Socceroos on Saturday night.
All teams are equal at a World Cup, of course, but some teams are more equal than others – and they almost always come from Europe.
And it’s not like Australia – whom the French will know literally nothing about, other than the fact they beat the Socceroos 6-0 in a friendly in Paris which cost Holger Osieck his job – are the only nation to receive such short shrift.
Here’s a brief preview I found on SB Nation – and yes, I’m aware it’s hardly a scientific survey – of Costa Rica’s supposed chances at the 2014 World Cup.
“Costa Rica will have to defend like crazy to secure a point in the tough Group E,” so it goes. “Don’t expect much from the squad, as they will leave Brazil without picking up a single point.”
The Costa Ricans, of course, finished top of a group containing Uruguay, Italy and England, beat Greece in the Round of 16 and were only knocked out of the tournament by the Netherlands in a penalty shoot-out.
My point – obviously – is that established football nations and their sheep-like supporters underestimate lesser lights as a matter of course.
And an inevitable degree of complacency filters through to the players themselves.
So why shouldn’t the Socceroos dream of beating France on Saturday?
Yes, they’ve got Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba and yada yada yada. Who cares?
Costa Rica beat Uruguay in their group opener in 2014 because they did the simple things right.
They were accurate in front of goal – see Joel Campbell’s equaliser – took their chance from a set piece thanks to Oscar Duarte and converted a quick-fire counter-attack through Marco Urena.
Household names? Hardly.
But the Costa Ricans didn’t care what anyone thought of their chances because they’d already been written off by all and sundry anyway.
France will show Australia the bare minimum of respect in Kazan, then they’ll expect to win the game by virtue of having shown up.
If Bert van Marwijk is worth his salt – and it’s worth remembering the shoe was on the other foot when he was in charge of the Netherlands – he’ll instruct his players to respect but not fear the French.
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Do the simple things right: remain compact, close down space, make the most of set pieces and most importantly, take your chances.
What’s the slogan? Impossible is nothing.
While the French are filling their heads with tired clichés about tough tackles and physical football and never giving up, van Marwijk should be instructing players like Nabbout and Arzani to simply run at their defence.
Play some football. What difference does it make if the Socceroos get hammered? That’s exactly what the world expects anyway.