Differing values: Socceroos look to team spirit in bid to give richly talented France a shock | World Cup 2022

Out went Karim Benzema, all $54m of him on the scrap heap to go with the $340m already there. Behold the maimed knees and hamstrings of Paul Pogba ($54m), Christopher Nkunku ($124m) and N’Golo Kanté ($46m). Survey the busted calves and Achilles tendons of Mike Maignan ($54m) and Presnel Kimpembe ($62m). Add a Ballon d’Or winner’s dodgy quad to the list for a grand total of $394m in damaged goods.

Do we trust in Transfermarkt? Probably not, but the Australian psyche needs something to hang its hopes on, even if it’s only as tangible as numbers crunched by volunteers.

And so, in that inexact and cold-hearted spirit, just look at all of those handsomely paid stars in that expensive metaphor of a casualty ward. Maybe with them in there the Socceroos can beat the rest out here? Hate to burst the bubble, but there’s another $811m in the likely starting XI. To play more inaccurate games with inaccurate figures, that could possibly buy Australia’s top-flight domestic league a couple of times over.

More seriously, though, no injury is a good thing. Australia ($58m in total) have only just felt that pain through the loss of Martin Boyle ($3m), and coach Graham Arnold and his squad have been quick to sympathise.

“It’s really sad for Benzema,” Arnold said. “He’s world player of the year and it would have been fantastic to play against him. That’s what these types of experiences are about, to play against the current world champions and also have the opportunity to show the rest of the world what we’re made of.”

Kylian Mbappé in training at the Jassim-bin-Hamad Stadium in Doha.
Kylian Mbappé in training at the Jassim-bin-Hamad Stadium in Doha. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

The point is more to ask a question about how much a team’s success or otherwise can be predicted using numbers on paper. Title holders France undoubtedly wield a superior set of players with enviably superior depth. Didier Deschamps did not name an injury replacement for Benzema because he felt satisfied 25 would be enough. He does, after all, have Kylian Mbappé ($247m) and Antoine Griezmann ($39m), among the many others.

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A midfield without Pogba and Kanté presents the most visible problem, with much of the pressure to shift onto the young shoulders of Aurélien Tchouaméni. Even then, defeating the Socceroos should not be a testing task. Except that it was four years ago during the group stage in Russia, where the score was tied at 1-1 until the 80th minute when an Australian own goal decided the match.

Deschamps remembers this close call and has attempted to impress it upon his team, but there is little evidence that anyone from any quarter at this tournament is taking seriously a country ranked 38th which has not won a World Cup match since 2010. Not least the French players, who appear to have no knowledge about any of the players.

“No, not at all, I don’t know any of the players individually,” Ibrahima Konaté said on Sunday, in response to a question about his experiences playing against Australian forward Mat Leckie while both were in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig and Hertha Berlin respectively.

Konaté and his teammates are polite about the Socceroos, mentioning their physicality and expecting them to sit back as they did at Russia 2018 under Bert van Marwijk.

But the reality of this fixture is that Australia will face the real-life versions of the stars in their Fifa video games, while those real-life stars have their attention on other things. The undermining issue for France right now is that the other things have less to do with football and more to do with dressing room disunity, a national federation in disarray and a Zinedine Zidane-shaped figure hovering ominously over Deschamps’ shoulder. The feeling among French media is a mix of confidence and apprehension. They’ll either go all the way or self-implode. There is no in between.

In stark contrast, the Australian camp is a picture of collegial calm. Every player says it, and the evidence bears the claim out.

“You can say our players aren’t playing in the top leagues in the world and all their players are,” Arnold said. “But it’s about team spirit, it’s about connecting 11 players – and 26 players – together in a family environment, making sure they’re mates and they’ve got each other’s backs. That’s when you can get special results.”

They are also well acclimatised in Qatar, having played a chunk of their qualifiers in Doha including both playoffs against the United Arab Emirates and Peru. The latter – like many World Cup rivals – were unaccustomed to the conditions. It played a part in their shock demise.

“It’s a completely different environment from where they’re coming from,” Arnold said. “If they’re coming from the English Premier League, or wherever else where the conditions cold, and you’re coming into the heat, it’s getting training times right and getting the days right. Because sometimes you just sit around all day waiting for training at night … and it takes the energy away.”

While Australia have been training at 5pm local time, France are not starting until 7pm. Deschamps, unlike Australia and the majority of other countries, is allowing media to watch entire sessions. On Sunday all signs pointed to Olivier Giroud starting as striker with Mbappé on the left of a 4-2-3-1 formation.

And so, on Tuesday evening at the Al Janoub Stadium, Mbappe will seek to breach the net of Mat Ryan. France’s most valuable player versus his Australian equivalent: $247m against $8m (allegedly). I know how this looks on paper.

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