France v Australia: Cahill ready to dance on the biggest stage
Evergreen Australia striker Tim Cahill is ready for "the big dance" as he attempts to waltz into World Cup folklore.
Cahill could join Brazil legend Pele and former Germany strikers Miroslav Klose and Uwe Seeler as the only players to have scored at four World Cups should he get on the scoresheet in Russia.
The 38-year-old is more of a squad player nowadays after previously being the fulcrum of a Socceroos side that continues to grow on the global stage.
But he has shelved all talk of international retirement until after the tournament.
Speaking ahead of Australia's Group C opener against France on Saturday, he told a news conference: "It's not a dress rehearsal, the big dance is here. This is where you have to step up.
"The fact is we train today, we train the day after, and we play France. That's all that's in my mind."
As for joining Pele, Klose and Seeler, he added: "I have put in so much effort to be here. To get on the pitch would be one step, to score would just be amazing. To join the list of names that are on there now would be priceless.
"You have to take your moments. If I get on the pitch I know I am going to try to make something happen.
"I would love to join the greats, being an Australian, being someone who has broken all barriers."
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) June 14, 2018
While Cahill is at one end of his career, the France side that will take the field in Kazan will feature some of the game's greatest young talents, led by Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
The development of Les Bleus under Didier Deschamps has been gradual – defeat on home soil to Portugal in the European Championship final two years ago remains an open wound – and their time may not come here in Russia, rather in Qatar in 2022.
But French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet is encouraged by the emergence of a new, zestful side which appears to be shorn of the cliques that have ravaged previous generations.
Le Graet said: "When you look at the number of young players we have, we can consider this to be a good France team.
"And when you see Mbappe answering the media's questions with an implausible maturity, it's extraordinary.
"When the players are with the national team they behave in an exemplary way. The change is clear. Deschamps has put a lot of effort into making the conditions ideal."
Mbappe sustained a knock in training on Tuesday, but declared himself "100 per cent fit" 24 hours later and is likely to lead the line.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) June 14, 2018
PLAYERS TO WATCH
France – Antoine Griezmann
The Atletico Madrid striker continues to be linked with a close-season switch to Barcelona, but his focus will be on firing Les Bleus to World Cup glory before considering his club future.
A key component of Atleti's Europa League triumph – he scored twice in the 3-0 final defeat of Marseille – Griezmann will be the likely beneficiary of France's lightning-fast counter attacks.
Australia – Aaron Mooy
While Cahill may be the household name, it's Huddersfield Town midfielder Mooy who sets the tempo in the Australia midfield.
Clever with his distribution, the 27-year-old also chipped in four goals and three assists as the Terriers avoided relegation from the Premier League last season.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- The record between France and Australia on neutral ground is perfectly balanced with a 1-0 win each (for France in Japan in May 1994 and for Australia in South Korea in June 2001). Their last encounter ended in a 6-0 win for Les Bleus in Paris, including a brace by Olivier Giroud.
- France have won only three of their last 12 group games (D5 L4) - against Togo, Honduras and Switzerland.
- Australia have reached the knockout stages of the World Cup on one occasion, in 2006 when they were eliminated in the last 16 by eventual winners Italy.
- Australia have won only two of their 13 games at the World Cup, against Japan in 2006 (3-1) and Serbia in 2010 (2-1), and kept only one clean sheet (0-0 v Chile, 1974).
- Bert van Marwijk will lead the Socceroos at the tournament after guiding Saudi Arabia to the 2018 World Cup.