France v Australia
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KAZAN • France coach Didier Deschamps cautioned his quality-packed side against "stage fright" when they face Australia looking for an opening win in the 2018 World Cup in Kazan today.
Deschamps, a 1998 World Cup winner with France, leads one of the youngest teams and is desperate to make amends for losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal in Paris.
Of the 23 players in his squad, 14 have never played at a major tournament. But Deschamps insisted yesterday: "For me there's no risk involved. If they're here, it's because they have what it takes as players to be here.
"We can't afford to get stage fright. I want the lads to be relaxed and concentrated. Their objective is drawing near. They have to seize the day."
Members of France's squad playing in their first World Cup.
Deschamps gave few clues as to his starting XI. But he confirmed that all 23 players - with an average age of 26 - are available for selection, easing fears that a knee injury might have ended right-back Djibril Sidibe's World Cup before it started.
Sidibe is believed to be a first-choice defender alongside Benjamin Mendy, Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane.
But the quartet have just 21 minutes of playing time together against England last June as Deschamps fielded 14 different backlines in their 21 games since Euro 2016.
More recently, striker Olivier Giroud had stitches to a head wound but would be able to play with protection, if selected. In all likelihood, Kylian Mbappe, 19, and Ousmane Dembele, 21, will support Antoine Griezmann up front.
"Of course we are young but several players already have plenty of experience: Raphael Varane won several (four) Champions League titles with Real, Samuel Umtiti is in the starting XI at Barca, Paul Pogba played four great seasons at Juve," PSG striker Mbappe told L'Equipe.
"Youth is an excuse without being an excuse. I don't like to talk about our age. Either you can, or you cannot."
France are expected to top their group, which also features Denmark and Peru. Les Bleus are tipped for an easy win over the Socceroos, having thumped Australia 6-0 in their last meeting in a friendly in 2013. But Deschamps underlined the positive changes made by Bert van Marwijk.
The Dutchman, who steered the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final and a 1-0 defeat by Spain, took over the Socceroos in January.
"He's changed a lot of things," said Deschamps. "The players are the same and of course it's the team that play the match. But we won't see Australia punting long balls up the field.
"They now try to play on the ground, and they're more attack-minded and more disciplined. He's also changed the defence, using four at the back instead of three in defence, or even five, as they used to. They're well organised."
Van Marwijk has challenged his players to have the belief they can cause a massive shock.
"We know we're playing one of the best countries in the world," he said. "It's not always the best players who win prizes. We like to be the best team...
"What is very important tomorrow is for us to be ourselves."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE