The pre-tournament favorites at this World Cup have struggled so far. France is no exception — but at least it has a win.
Les Bleus, who are seventh in the FIFA world rankings, got past Australia 2-1 in their opener despite a mostly lackluster effort from their trio of elite strikers.
France benefited from some good fortune. Its first goal came after a penalty called with the aid of video review. Then it scored again on a fluky goal that was found by goal-line technology to have crossed the line and was later determined to have been last touched by an Australian player.
France was one of only two teams ranked in FIFA’s top seven to win its opening match. The other was Belgium.
A win Thursday night against Peru at Yekaterinburg Arena would put France in position to wrap up a second consecutive appearance in the round of 16.
The Peruvians held a 17-10 advantage in shots on goal but failed to capitalize on their chances during a 1-0 loss to Denmark . Peru’s task could be even harder against Group C favorite France, which it will be facing for the first time in World Cup play.
The only previous meeting between the teams was a 1982 friendly that Peru won 1-0.
France’s top attackers — Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele — were underwhelming against Australia.
France outshot its opponent 12-6. Griezmann had five of those attempts, Mbappe had one and Dembele played 70 minutes without a shot on goal. Griezmann’s goal came after a penalty, the byproduct of a video assistant referee review of a foul on the sideline.
The other goal was initially credited to Paul Pogba before a panel of former coaches and players determined it actually came off a touch by Australia’s Aziz Behich.
France can’t count on such good fortune against a disciplined Peru defense, and coach Didier Deschamps didn’t rule out tweaking his lineup.
“I will have 11 (players) against Peru,” Deschamps said. “It may be the same, it may be different ones, but those three attacking players played as they should play. I have a good group. Each of them has his say among the 23 players.”
One of the key questions for Peru will be how coach Ricardo Gareca uses the country’s all-time leading scorer, Paolo Guerrero.
After having a doping ban lifted just before the start of the tournament, the 34-year-old striker came on as a substitute against Denmark and played well in about 30 minutes of action. He almost scored twice, the last time using his unique skill set to nearly create what would have been an equalizing goal.
It’s the kind of effort that could prompt Gareca to return Guerrero to a starting role for this match, which will determine whether Peru has a chance of advancing to the second round for the first time since 1978.
Peru brought one of the largest contingents of fans to Russia. Tens of thousands are following the Incas during their first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
They were loud throughout Peru’s opener at Mordovia Arena in Saransk, at times drowning out their Danish counterparts.
That support could be a factor in trying to rattle France’s stars. Deschamps said the fans reminded him of Colombia’s supporters during friendly in Paris that Colombia won 3-2.
“Thirty thousand Peruvians came to Moscow, so they are very excited and enthusiastic,” Deschamps said. “We played Colombia in March and we saw that they are not only aggressive, but they have very good players.”
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