Tunisia v France
Tunisia went down 5-1 to Brazil in their last game before the World Cup, and having taken just one point from their opening two games with Denmark and Australia (whilst failing to score a goal), they look ill-equipped to challenge France on Wednesday. Les Bleus may only boast a single clean sheet from eight appearances since June, but it hasn’t stopped them from taking victories in clashes with Australia and Denmark, with Kylian Mbappe registering three times across the two outings.
Given France have already qualified and virtually topped the group (owing to a superior goal difference, let alone their head-to-head result with Australia), Didier Deschamps will be expected to make a few changes here. That could disrupt the team’s flow, even if enviable options are waiting in the wings, though it could potentially see experiments such as midfielder Eduardo Camavinga starting at left back following Lucas Hernandez’s injury.
Either way, France should find that their reserves are plenty good enough to see off a Tunisia side struggling badly for goals. 15 of Tunisia’s 20 matches since December 2021 have seen fewer than three goals, 12 featured a maximum of one strike, while at least one team failed to score on 18 occasions. A French clean sheet is by no means certain but with some regulars expected to drop to the bench, a more low-key victory should be expected, as France & Under 3.5 Goals has landed in five of Les Bleus’ nine World Cup games since 2018.
FRANCE TO WIN AND UNDER 3.5 GOALS
Australia v Denmark
Mitchell Duke’s header against Tunisia bagged Australia their first World Cup win since 2010, though between the two victories, they did lose six and draw one, conceding at least twice in each defeat. Australia rarely play European sides and in fact, before their group opener with France, their previous two encounters with European outfits were also France and Denmark at the last World Cup. However, going back to 2012, the Socceroos are a poor W3-D3-L13 against such sides, with the victories coming over Greece, Czech Republic and Hungary.
Australia only need to avoid another loss here to keep Denmark at bay, while for the European outfit (who are not accustomed to playing with the handbrake off), nothing else other than a win will suffice. Denmark can however point to a strong record when stripping away results against the elite sides, even if they did beat France twice this year in Nations League action.
Excluding clashes with Belgium, Croatia, England, France, Germany and Netherlands, the Danish are W37-D16-L3 since November 2016 over 90 minutes. Even those three losses came when a reserve side was fielded in a friendly against Slovakia owing to a dispute between the players and the Danish FA, when Christian Erikson suffered a cardiac arrest against Finland at the Euros, and in a dead rubber qualifier with Scotland having already topped the group.
Australia have only scored more than once in five of their past 14 fixtures, hardly against stellar opposition as these came against Vietnam, Oman, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and New Zealand. Denmark can boast a different calibre of defenders, and with 26 of those 37 aforementioned victories accompanied by clean sheets, they look well equipped to shut down the game once they get their noses in front.
DENMARK TO WIN TO NIL
Poland v Argentina
These two sides currently occupy the top two spots in Group C, but neither have been especially convincing so far. Poland lacked any sort of initiative on the opening day against Mexico before a win over Saudi Arabia, and given they currently top the standings, it would be a real surprise if they went toe-to-toe with Argentina. The South American outfit may have picked up the win they craved against Mexico, with talisman Leo Messi ultimately proving the difference, but they remain in a precarious position and only a win will guarantee progress to the knockouts.
Given that defeat to Saudi Arabia is the only one Argentina have suffered in 38 appearances, another appears unlikely here. However, there were 11 stalemates over this spell, so Poland certainly shouldn’t be discounted from obtaining that all-important point. Moreover, Argentina didn’t exactly play Mexico off the park, taking over an hour to find the breakthrough, so Lionel Scaloni may well re-jig his line-up again in search of the perfect balance.
Poland are W4-D8-L7 at major tournaments since Euro 2008, with those victories coming against Northern Ireland and Ukraine (2016), Japan (2018) and Saudi Arabia (2022). However, they’ve only faced elite outfits on four occasions (Germany twice, Portugal and Spain), securing a stalemate in three of those games over 90 minutes.
A defensive outlook could yet come back to haunt Poland, but given they’ve lost by more than a single goal in just two of 27 fixtures now, they appear a worthy price on the Asian Handicap. Indeed, those 27 games included as many as eight clashes with Belgium, England, Netherlands or Spain, as they’ve demonstrated an ability to restrict elite opposition to a certain extent.
POLAND +1 HANDICAP
Saudi Arabia v Mexico
Mexico are just one of three teams alongside Tunisia and Uruguay who are yet to score in Qatar, though disappointment in front of goal hasn’t just been limited to this tournament. El Tri have netted more than once in just three of their past 11 fixtures now, while drawing a blank on five occasions.
Subsequently, Mexico have been involved in a number of low-scoring affairs. 12 of their last 18 outings featured fewer than three goals, nine saw a maximum of one strike, while at least one team failed to score in 14 of them. With Raul Jimenez diminished and all-time top scorer Javier Hernandez out of the picture, Gerardo Martino lacks a clinical marksman up front. Alexis Vega is the only player to score more than a single goal across Mexico’s past 13 games (three), as El Tri simply lack the firepower to blow any team away.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia have been reliant upon their backline first and foremost. A whopping 17 of their past 18 games have witnessed a maximum of two goals, with the exception that phenomenal 2-1 win over Argentina. In fact, 12 of those games saw a solitary strike at most, while at least one side failed to score 14 times, so this encounter doesn’t look set to ignite.
Of course, the group standings ensure that the two sides must take greater risks if a breakthrough isn’t found. The Saudis know that a point will only be enough if Argentina lose to Poland or alternatively thump them by four goals (although a three-goal margin could potentially suffice, depending on the eventual goals scored). Nothing short of a win will do for Mexico, though should they find their noses in front, it’s hard to see them going for the jugular and instead safe possession will likely be the focus.
BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE (NO)
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