Australia captain Mat Ryan learned at the last World Cup that France’s superstar players were all human and has been telling the younger Socceroos players to respect but not be in awe of the world champions when they meet on Tuesday.
Ryan, who is playing at his third World Cup, was in goal when Australia opened its 2018 campaign with a 2-1 loss to France in a tight match decided by a deflected Paul Pogba shot nine minutes from time. “(We) felt like we almost got a great result there against France… and we felt were quite unlucky,” he recalled at a news conference on the eve of the Group D clash.
“Something that I learned that day (is) you’ve got to have the right amount of respect for the opposition, but don’t be in awe of them or be overwhelmed too much. We’re playing some very good players in a good team tomorrow but we’re all human out there. And yeah, we’ve got a real good chance to win tomorrow.”
Coach Graham Arnold said he had also tried to do his bit to put his players at ease by not mentioning the names of the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, or even the team. “It’s not being disrespectful at all, but I’ve hardly mentioned the word France, and I’ve hardly mentioned any of the players’ names because the players know who they are,” he said.
‘It’s a fight’
“It’s one against one, it’s 10 blue shirts against 10 yellow shirts, and it’s a fight. That’s what it is.”
Arnold said key midfielder Ajdin Hrustic was still not ready to start the match at the Al Janoub stadium after recovering from an ankle injury. Nevertheless, he thought his youthful midfield, several of whom he coached at the Tokyo Olympics, would be up to the challenge of taking on players of proven international class.
“I know their mentality,” he said. “They don’t step back from anybody; they only know how to look forward and go forward, and it doesn’t matter who’s in front of them.”
Ryan said he had not considered joining the captains of seven European nations, whose plan to wear a “One Love” armband during matches was ditched on Monday after FIFA threatened them with sanctions.
The Socceroos players criticised Qatar’s record on human rights and same-sex relationships in a video released last month. “We made our statement,” he said. “We’re here to focus on football, that’s where our heads are at right now.”