12:00 AM, June 15, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:46 AM, June 15, 2018


The French will embark on their World Cup campaign with a tough encounter against a resolute Australian side. Although the Aussies struggled to qualify, only making it through to the tournament with a 3-1 win over Honduras in the play-offs, they have a talented and experienced side. However, the French are, at least on paper, leagues above. Les Bleus feature a superstar in nearly every position and have not lost since a 3-2 defeat to Colombia in March. They must heed their lessons from that game -- they were 2-0 up before complacency got the better of them -- and play the full 90 minutes without taking their foot off the gas up to ensure they lay down a marker.


Lionel Messi and Co will begin their World Cup with a clash against lightweights Iceland in what is expected to be a straightforward encounter for Argentina, with Iceland having not won a single game in 2018. All and sundry will be raring to see a Messi masterclass, but it would be folly to take Iceland lightly. They breezed through UEFA's Group I in qualifying, finishing top ahead of the strong Croatians, among others. Argentina's struggles in qualifying -- they made it through after a Messi hattrick in the final match -- have been cast aside by good recent form, a 6-1 demolition to Spain in March and Iceland's upset of England in Euro 2016 are cautionary tales they must heed.


In what will be perhaps the third biggest match of the group stages behind Spain-Portugal and Belgium-England, Germany and Mexico will go head to head in a clash that promises to be enticing. The holders will want to get a statement win against a team fancied to at least reach the last 16 and a big win here would certainly help them establish their dominance on the group as well. On the other hand, a win for Mexico would show that they are more than second-rounders. It will not be an easy task for either side, but although Germany will go into the clash with El Tri with a lot more to lose, the elite mentality of Die Mannschaft should see them through.


Brazil had concerns about Neymar's fitness ahead of the World Cup, but two sublime goals in the pre-tournament warm-up matches must surely have alleviated those. The 26-year old has been in sublime touch since return, having not skipped a beat in getting back into action. His performances have always been vital for Brazil, but their strong form throughout qualifying and in the subsequent matches means they should be at ease. Switzerland have had good recent form with a win over Japan, a 6-0 demolition of fellow World Cup contestants Panama and a 1-1 draw against Spain, but it would be a big upset if they came away even with a point against Tite's giants.

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