France are the big hitters in Group C and have plenty of incentive to perform following disappointing showings at recent World Cups. On paper, they have one of the easiest groups of any of the top seeds. Australia, Peru and Denmark would all love to upset Les Blues but, in all likelihood, will compete for the second spot and the remaining qualifying place.
Let’s take a look at each team in turn and assess their prospects.
Didier Deschamps has an enviable array of talent to pick from. His forward options alone include Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Alexandre Lacazette, Dmitri Payet and a new generation of talent led by Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar, Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial and Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman.
Pick a front four from that! Wherever you look Les Bleus have strength in depth: N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot in central midfield; Laurent Koscielny, Rafael Varane and Samuel Umtiti in defence. They also have something to build on: a final appearance at their home Euros in 2016. However, the memory of past disappointments is equally strong, particularly the national team’s nadir in South Africa 2010 (where the players went on strike before exiting the tournament in disgrace).
Perhaps the most damning thing about the 2010 farce was the chasm it revealed between the national team squad and the French public. Can a new generation of players make their countrymen proud? Topping the group to secure an easier passage in the last-16 will be the team’s first target.
The Socceroos have appeared at the last three World Cups, making it through the group stages just once, but will believe they have a chance of making an impact in Group C. 38-year-old midfielder Tim Cahill, who appeared at all three of those World Cups, remains an influential player and it is in midfield that the Australians look strongest.
Aston Villa’s Mile Jedinak, Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Mooy and Celtic’s Tom Rogic are powerful players with a goal threat used to operating at a high level. Exactly how the Australians will line-up in Russia is impossible to predict following the resignation of manager Ange Postecoglou post-qualification. Postecoglou employed an unconventional system that wasn’t unanimously popular and it seems likely that a new manager will adopt a new tactical approach.
The Australian FA’s choice of manager could go a long way to determining their fate at the World Cup. Investing in a manager of Guus Hiddink’s calibre paid dividends in 2006, when the Aussie’s made it through their group. A similar appointment in 2018 may give the Aussie’s hope of replicating the achievement.
Peru may not be one of the giants of world football but any team that makes it through the intensively competitive South American qualification section, which threatened to trip up Messi’s Argentina and did trip up Alexis Sanchez’s Copa America winning Chile, are not to be sniffed at.
Manager Ricardo Gareca has been feted for bringing high-energy, short-passing football to the national team and handing hungry young players the opportunity to excel. Going forward the class and experience of Jefferson Farfan of Lokomotiv Moscow and Paolo Guerrero, once of Bayern Munich, has been ably supplemented by Watford’s pacy winger Andre Carrillo. São Paulo’s attacking midfielder Christian Cueva is the creative fulcrum of the team, while, at 33, captain Alberto Rodríguez has the experience to hold things together in central defence.
The Peruvians play the most attractive brand of football of Group C’s “three pretenders.” Can they translate that into success at their first World Cup since Spain 1982?
Christian Eriksen is the star player in a Denmark squad that, on the whole, are workmanlike rather than inspirational. Eriksen has, at times, been pleasing on the eye rather than productive, but certainly hit his stride in qualification for Russia 2018. The Spurs playmaker struck eleven times in the qualifying campaign and made his biggest mark in the second leg of the playoff against Republic of Ireland.
With the tie in the balance Eriksen scored a classy hat-trick in a 5-1 away win that proved the Dane’s were worthy of their place in Russia 2018. Manager Age Hareide has been in charge since 2015 and has options in his squad to complement Eriksen’ individual ability. Kasper Scheimichel provides solidity at the back, where Chelsea’s young centre-half Andreas Christensen is pushing for inclusion alongside the experienced Simon Kjaer.
Werder Bremen’s midfielder Thomas Delaney has the energy to contribute in attack and defence, while Celta Vigo’s Pione Sisto is a pacy, if slightly inconsistent, option on the flanks. Up front Denmark have players like Nikolas Bendtner and Andreas Cornelius to offer the kind of physical presence that could bring deeper-lying attackers into play. Expect the Danes to be solid and consistent – qualities that may take them to the last-16.
Denmark vs Peru (Saturday June 16th) on the opening day of the group could go a long way to deciding second place. The two most technically gifted teams outside of favourites France will go head-to-head and a win for either could prove telling.
Denmark vs France (Tuesday June 26th) is an all-European clash that could work out nicely for the Danes. If the French win their first two matches and are assured of first place in the group expect them to make full use of their squad in this fixture. As strong as the French squad is the Dane’s will fancy cashing in on the dip in intensity and cohesion en-masse rotation often brings and could nick the win that would see them into the last-16.
France should sail through as group winners but the other qualifying spot is well and truly up for grabs. The fixtures look to favour the Danes. If they avoid defeat against Peru in the first game they could end up playing the French team at a better time than their rivals and squeak their way through.