France v Australia
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LONDON (THE GUARDIAN) - Bert van Marwijk has urged Australia to be themselves in the lead-up to their World Cup opener against France in Kazan on Saturday (June 16).
The Socceroos have a tendency to suffer the kind of punishing starts from which recovery proves impossible.
In the 2014 tournament, Australia were defeated comfortably by Chile and in 2010, Germany's 4-0 victory inflicted significant goal-difference damage.
The Dutchman had managed Saudi Arabia to qualification for these Finals before a job switch to Australia and he did not take kindly to the suggestion his new team might take a similar amount of punishment that his old side did in losing 5-0 to Russia.
"We had better not come to the stadium if we think like that," he said. "We have worked very hard for four weeks and must believe."
Van Marwijk has been influential in a short space of time since taking over the Australian side from Ange Postecoglou in January, with a particular emphasis in shoring up the defence, improving organisation and making them a more compact unit.
The Socceroos are better set up to try to make life difficult for France than they were under the old regime.
A tactical shuffle with a return to a back four has added a more stable foundation even if it means the captain, Mile Jedinak, may miss out on a starting position.
Two other prospects to make a difference from the bench come from other ends of the age scale - the 38-year-old Tim Cahill and the precocious teenage winger Daniel Arzani.
Australia might be underdogs but van Marwijk wants his team to compete.
"We know France are one of best in world," he said on Friday. "If you see their results in the last year they are not always stable, but they have a chance to win the World Cup. But it is not always the best players who win prizes, often the best team.
"We like to be the best team. We have to have lot of discipline, guts, to believe in something. It is very important we are ourselves tomorrow."
In warm-up matches, Australia performed well against the Czech Republic and Hungary and van Marwijk is using that as a reference point. Although underplaying the potential for a shock, the percentages have at least changed for the better.
"Normally when we play 10 times against France, we would usually lose eight or nine times," the Dutchman said. "We've worked hard to get to the situation where we maybe lose five or six but maybe also win or draw. We need guts to be ourselves and then we have a chance."