Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin, Ousmane Dembele.
The daunting task of silencing any combination of these French forwards at the World Cup will first fall to Mat Ryan, with Australia facing Didier Deschamps’ formidable attacking talent on June 16 in Kazan.
It’s undoubtedly Australia’s toughest match in Group C, with encounters against Denmark and Peru to follow, but while the odds are stacked against the Socceroos, they head to Russia with a No 1 who has been putting out fires all season.
Few predicted Brighton would survive in the Premier League, but nine wins and 13 draws took them to the magic 40-point mark with two games to spare. Subsequent defeats at Manchester City and Liverpool came after safety was already guaranteed.
Ryan was integral in keeping Brighton up, and played every minute of their league campaign. A clean sheet in the 1-0 win over Manchester United saw them over the finish line, but nine prior to that helped them pick up valuable points along the way.
No Premier League goalkeeper faced more shots than Ryan last season, 560 in total – an average of almost 15 per game – while his save percentage clocked in at 69.49, ranking him eighth in 2017-18 from those who played 10 games or more.
Having had the busiest of seasons in England, Ryan will look to utilise this experience on the international stage, and compatriot Tim Cahill – who also features in Australia’s preliminary 26-man squad – believes this should stand the goalkeeper, and the nation, in good stead.
“The best thing Maty has done is come to the Premier League and play in the hardest league in the world,” Cahill told Sky Sports. “Also, he’s seen out a whole season and been exceptional, one of the main players in their squad.
“For us as a national team, he’s indispensable. It has been great for me to watch his progression and his journey as an older player. Seeing what he’s doing in the Premier League – he’s important for us in a big way.”
From New South Wales to the south coast of England. The journey Cahill speaks of has been unconventional, particularly as Ryan’s time in Australia – at Blacktown City and Central Coast Mariners – was followed by stints at Club Brugge, Valencia and Genk before he moved to Brighton.
And regarding his progression as a goalkeeper, Ryan has had to learn the way. As the last line of defence, that final barrier for the opposition, criticism can be so easily placed on the man who makes a simple mistake, or ships in an abnormal amount of goals.
One night in particular, at the Nou Camp in 2016, could so easily have shattered Ryan’s confidence. This may already ring some bells, but once you mention 7-0 and Gary Neville, it becomes a little clearer what match this is eluding to.
Ryan was Valencia’s goalkeeper on that fateful night when they conceded seven to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg. It was particularly difficult to swallow given that he had been largely reduced to cup outings during his time in Spain.
tent/uploads/2018/06/14b1a04bcdc97e3b8549371ccb95cc4f.jpg” Mat Ryan: The Brighton and Australia goalkeeper charged with stopping France’s forwards at the World Cup />
“Wouldn’t it hurt you if you were a goalkeeper?” he told the Guardian earlier this year. Having dreamt of shutting out Barcelona’s feared ‘MSN’ trio, Luis Suarez scored four goals, with Lionel Messi adding a further three. But Ryan was undeterred.
“I love the challenge,” Ryan added. “Any sort of mistake and everyone views you as having had a poor game. I know the English pundits and public tend to be quite critical of goalkeepers. I’ve seen a few unleashing on a few keepers. You cop it on the chin. That Barcelona night, you’ve just got to move forward.”
Two years later, Ryan has given pundits and the public little to criticise, having made just three errors leading to shots this season, with two being scored.
Former Australia No 1 Mark Schwarzer, who experienced many a busy Premier League afternoon with Middlesbrough and Fulham, believes Ryan’s first taste of football will do him the world of good in Russia.
Schwarzer told Sky Sports: “Coming across to England he had to adapt to a different mind-set and it was his biggest challenge. At Brighton it’s a different style of football. They are not necessarily looking to play out from the back that often. They are more looking to turn teams around, knock the ball up the pitch and try win possession high up the pitch before engaging with the opposition.
“They didn’t do that at Club Brugge or Valencia. That’s been an induction for him, but the key is that when he goes to the World Cup he’s going to be in a similar situation when Australia come up against France, Denmark and Peru.
“Australia do want to play football, but when you come up against the likes of France, Denmark and even Peru, they will be the underdogs so you naturally become a team that becomes a little more defensive.”
It seems inevitable, then, that Ryan has a busy summer ahead. And the prospect of venturing beyond the groups and into the knockouts, could well be in his hands.