Australia phenom Garang Kuol, 18, has no fear ahead of World Cup opener vs. France

Australia phenom Garang Kuol, 18, holds no fear of Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, or Lucas Hernandez. In fact, the Socceroos' off-the-bench attacking weapon relishes the possibility of getting the chance to test himself against some of the best defenders in the world when the Socceroos open their 2022 World Cup campaign against France.

"I wouldn't say intimidation," Kuol told reporters on Friday. "I find it more exciting. To see what you can do against players of that calibre. You've just got to go up to it with the right mindset and work to create something."

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Kuol, who will join Newcastle United in January, won his only cap for Australia in a substitute appearance against New Zealand in September and travels to Qatar as the second-youngest player at the World Cup behind Germany striker Youssoufa Moukoko.

The teenager has enjoyed a remarkable journey so far in his young career, from playing semi-professional football in the second-tier of one of Australia's state-based NPLs to a Premier League move within just a few years. His World Cup selection comes after six goals in 12 career appearances in the A-League Men, all of which have come from the bench. But there is an inescapable nagging question that accompanies his presence in Qatar.

What if he actually can pull something off against the French? Or against the Tunisians or the Danes in Australia's subsequent games? What if he can find lightning in a bottle again and deliver an unlikely goal or assist on football's biggest stage?

It should not happen, but Kuol's history shows that, no matter how small the chance might be, it is not a fantastical thought. For at every step of the way of his career in senior football, observers have been waiting for the rug to be pulled out from underneath him and for his ability to somehow find a way to make things happen on a football pitch to be stymied.

At some point, A-League Men opponents were supposed to stop being surprised by his sudden game-breaking appearances off the bench for the Central Coast Mariners and clamp down on his production, but they didn't. When he was called up to make his debut for the Socceroos in that September friendly against New Zealand, the thought was that the bright light of international football would be too much. But they weren't. Then, the thinking was that Australian coach Graham Arnold wouldn't dare risk bringing such an inexperienced and raw prospect to Qatar. But he has.

"I don't really pay attention to what's said around me," Kuol said. "I'm mainly just focused on what I do on the field and in training and games. If I'm not playing well I'm not going to look at what's online.

"What's on the field is what makes me happy and gives me the motivation to keep pushing forward.

"[Becoming the youngest World Cup Socceroo ever is] just another label, it doesn't really mean anything. I've just got to perform on the field and that's what makes me the player I am."

All sense of rhyme and reason would suggest Kuol should not be able to lay a glove on the French in less than a week. Running at the defences of Western Sydney Wanderers and Western United is all well and good, but it is a far, far cry from Les Blues. There would be no shame if struggled to display the same levels of magic that he does in the A-Leagues. It's to be expected.

But what if he does find a way?

"It's a very exciting experience for me," Kuol said. "I've been watching the Socceroos for a long time and the World Cup is the biggest stage. So I want to prove myself.

"Of course [I can make an impact off the bench] it's all about just having the confidence in yourself and being ruthless and having that mindset to want to create something and make an impact.

"I just want to play well, create something, and make an impact."

This bold mindset about what is possible against France and a refusal to be kowtowed by their star power is mirrored by Kuol's friend Mabil, a fellow South Sudanese refugee to Australia who shapes as a possible starter despite limited game time with La Liga side Cadiz.

"I don't fear anybody. They're humans just like us," Mabil said. "They play at a high level but we can't go into the game giving them so much respect, then we've already lost the game.

"We've just got to go out there and do your bit and do it to the best of your ability. If it's your day, it's your day. If it's not your day, ok. But at least you're not scared of facing anybody."