Can Australia pull themselves up off the World Cup canvas?

The obstacles facing the Socceroos in crunch World Cup clash (2:29)

ESPN's Joey Lynch previews Australia's crucial match against Tunisia and is expecting a hostile crowd. (2:29)

On Saturday afternoon, Australia will open their 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign against Tunisia at the Al Janoub Stadium. Well not really, but that's the message coach Graham Arnold has adopted in an attempt to pick his squad off the canvas after their 4-1 defeat to France on Tuesday night.

It's a bold strategy, given that most of the world watched that shellacking, but Arnold has never been one to shy away from attempting to speak into existence his own, more amenable reality to suit a greater purpose. And given what took place on Tuesday evening, and the precipice his side now occupies, it's also difficult to blame him for trying.

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That fixture against Les Bleus was, of course, the Socceroos' actual opening match of their 2022 campaign, and the reigning world champions delivered a harsh reality check; for all Australia's talk of unity of purpose and collective effort, France showed that tactical and technical prowess is king in deciding football matches.

Socceroos fans could scarcely believe their eyes as Harry Souttar, Mathew Leckie and Craig Goodwin combined to give Australia the lead, and they dared to believe for almost 30 minutes until France equalised. Then the rest of the game happened, and France dispatched an increasingly hapless Australia, toying with their foes in merciless fashion. Playing against an out-matched Nathaniel Atkinson, Kylian Mbappe glided across the pitch with the honed arrogance that only the best in the world can display.

"Best friendly we could ever have," Arnold said on Thursday. "It's a two-game tournament now. Yes, it's three games, but we've got to win the next two. And there's no better opposition to play against in a so-called friendly than France, who is going to punish you for every small mistake the way they did.

"It's a great learning experience for a lot of those young boys out there. We had 11 [World Cup] debutants and that's what it's about; not only for this campaign but the next one as well.

"[The players] were down. They were disappointed. But straight after the game, we got back to the hotel and I grabbed them straight in a room and told them how proud I was of their work ethic and commitment. All the stats showed that they put in 100% plus."

Nonetheless, for all the positive spin and takeaways uttered by Arnold and his group after the "friendly," Australia sit at the bottom of Group D with a goal difference of -3; the Socceroos have to take at least a point from Saturday if they are to keep their hopes of progression alive. Australia's first World Cup win since 2010 will be better, giving them some room to manoeuvre in their final group game against Denmark, but a loss will mean they can start booking plane tickets home.

"I expect them to play a 4-3-3," Arnold said. "Tunisia, over every game we've watched, they've played a 4-3-3 and we expect them to go back to that. They went and did this first game against Denmark with a more defensive mindset and a back five, but I expect them to play a 4-3-3.

"[Ellyes Skhiri] runs the show. We've identified that and we'll come up with a solution.

"They were aggressive [against Denmark]. They're going to have 40,000 fans behind them and it's going to be an amazing experience again for everyone."

Socceroos squad member Milos Degenek echoed Arnold's thoughts about the expected atmosphere, a result of 55,000 Tunisian expatriates living in Qatar supplemented by supporters who have made the trek to Doha; a veteran of European nights and Eternal Derbies with Red Star Belgrade, Degenek is familiar with the effects that a hostile crowd can have on a team.

"It's one of those games where you want to play because it's one of the rare games where it's more about heart and fight rather than the technical ability and the ability to play football," Degenek said. "It's more about the desire to win.

"I haven't seen a team at a World Cup with this much heart, passion, love, and desire for their country [than Tunisia]. They're phenomenal. They've got phenomenal desire. I think it's a massive group. I think the guys love each other and they have a fire in their eyes and they're very strong in the way they go about their things. I saw they made massive problems for Denmark and, in the end, I think they should have won."

So who will start against Tunisia?

Aziz Behich's position on the left of Australia's defence appears secure, but Degenek, Bailey Wright and Thomas Deng may come into contention to start in place of either or both Kye Rowles and Souttar; Fran Karacic also looms large over Atkinson after the latter's tough night against Mbappe. Degenek is the most experienced Socceroos player and he is well-credentialled at clubland, but Wright has been praised by Arnold for his leadership while Deng's ball-playing ability may give him an edge for a game in which Australia will likely see the majority of possession.

Tunisia's Aissa Laidouni is liable to turn the midfield into a battleground so Arnold may look at Cameron Devlin or Keanu Baccus to provide more bite -- either in place of Aaron Mooy, or to allow him to push further up the pitch.

Ajdin Hrustic is described by Arnold as being 95% fit after missing the France game -- with the other 5% not mattering -- and his return from injury will provide the Socceroos with an important attacking reference point and technician in what will likely be tight surrounds near the Tunisian box.


Socceroos coach reacts to opening World Cup defeat

Graham Arnold says the Socceroos must bounce back quickly after suffering a hard loss to France in the opening game in Qatar.

Leckie and Goodwin appear to be in a strong position on the wings, after assisting and scoring Australia's goal against France, but the starter at the tip of Australia's spear will come down to Arnold's preferred attributes for his gameplan: the battering ram that is Mitchell Duke or the more incorporative Jamie Maclaren or Jason Cummings.

Youngsters Marco Tilio and Garang Kuol won't start, but their ability to stretch, go around, and go through defences may prove significant off the bench.

"It's about the energy, at training, who can move around the pitch well, and who is feeling well and that," Arnold said.

Tunisia have a strong side and will likely enter as favourites -- reflective of their status as powers of African and Arab football -- but the Socceroos have talent to find a way through. Or at the very least, they've got set pieces. At the same time, Australia repeatedly struggled in World Cup qualifying to create high-quality looks on goal against a set defence.

Both scenarios are possible against Tunisia. Four years of frustrating lived experience leans towards the latter. But perhaps Arnold can construct a reality around the former.