Australia defender Nathaniel Atkinson has become quite used to seeing Kylian Mbappe over the past week in Doha. Or at least a digital facsimile. Most of this is from study; the right-back, should he be tapped to start over Fran Karacic, is likely to mark the France superstar when the two sides meet on Tuesday. However, given that Atkinson is an avid gamer, he hasn't even been able to escape even during his downtime.
Inside the Socceroos training base at the Aspire Academy in Doha, on the opposite side of the campus to their own cafe, stands a games room containing all the classics. There's pool, table tennis, foosball and air hockey facilities to keep them occupied, as well as couches and snacks for relaxing. And of course, there are the requisite Playstations set up for FIFA matches: with cover-athlete Mbappe taking pride of place throughout the game's menus and loading screens.
Having this constant reminder of Mbpappe's titanic international notoriety somewhat clashes with Socceroos coach Graham Arnold's attempts to demystify and humanise Les Bleus, the 59-year-old going so far as to sometimes call the team "blue shirts" rather than France. But Atkinson, for his part, isn't phased by his possible opponent's intrusion into his downtime, especially when he looks at who is with him on the FIFA cover.
"[I'm] Not really [bothered]. I've got [Mbappe] in my Ultimate Team, as well," he said. "I think if you look at it, there's Mbappe, but there's also Sam Kerr on the cover as well. That's an Australian.
"What Sam Kerr's doing for Australian football, that shows that Australia is on the world map of football."
Designed with significant input from the Socceroos' playing group, the recreation room at the Aspire Academy represents part of a broader and long-standing plan by Arnold and his staff to reinforce what has become an almost inviolable sense of comradery and spirit, with a bit of siege mentality thrown in, that exists within his team heading into Qatar.
With the odds of success against the reigning world champions significantly against them, coaches and players alike have emphasised intangible and physical factors to an even greater degree than usual since landing in Qatar; extolling maximum effort, energy, winning individual battles, proving doubters wrong and fighting for your mates. Or as Arnold calls it, "Aussie DNA." Martin Boyle's injury represented a major blow, but he's staying around the camp as a self-appointed "chief vibes officer".
Meanwhile, reigning Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema, plus Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe, Paul Pogba, and N'Golo Kante have all been forced out of Didier Deschamps' side through injury, while controversies such as Mbappe boycotting a promotional event over image rights and an extortion case involving Pogba have raged in recent times.
Certainly, the perception is that the solidarity and uniformity in purpose that exists in the Australian setup represents an area in which they can claim to have a genuinely clear advantage over Les Bleus -- perhaps their only one.
"There's no sour grapes at all. Everyone is a collective and everyone buys into the unity," goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne said.
"There was a player that spoke yesterday who said he hasn't played but that he'll be the first one to put his hand up and help prepare and give everything to better the team's performance. And whoever is playing, he'll be the first to come in and help develop and help level up their performance."
There's also hope that Australia's frequent trips to Qatar during qualification, the Gulf state used as a home away from home by the side when strict COVID quarantine requirements prevented them from playing on Australian soil, will give them a greater edge in the conditions.
"[Qatar] is a completely different environment from where [France are] coming from," Arnold said. "If they're coming from the Premier League or wherever they're coming from where the conditions are cold, then you're coming into the heat.
"It's about getting the training times right and getting the days right because sometimes you just sit around all day and wait for training at night. Then you sit in the lounge, watching TV and it takes the energy away.
"We're doing activities during the mornings that make the players laugh, have fun and enjoy each other's company and [there are] social rooms; making sure that when they go on the pitch they've got that energy.
"If we focus too much on the opposition, all we can do is put in the brains of the players how good the opposition is. We know their strengths, the players know their strengths. It's about those 10 blue shirts against 10 Yellow and an individual battle. And we've got the Aussie DNA."