Our World Cup preview series takes us to Group C, which includes the super talented France and their high hopes; the exciting and sympathetic Denmark led by Christian Eriksen; Peru making a much awaited comeback to the tournament with few expectations; and Australia, mainstays in the tournament, but rarely for more than 3 matches.
From the players Didier Deschamps left out of the tournament, among them as always Karim Benzema, it is possible to make another talented group that would do well in the World Cup. But there’s no reason to dwell on those that won’t be in Russia, as Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and the rest of a talented and deep Les Bleus side attempt to advance a step further than they did two years ago on their home soil in the European Championship.
Besides some issues at right and left back, Deschamps has a team that is as talented as anyone in this tournament from top to bottom. Young yet experienced in big tournaments (some of them at least), the expectations from the home front are for a semifinal appearance. This will mean Pogba shaking his inconsistencies from both club and country, for Kylian Mbappe to step up while N’Golo Kante shows the dominance he has provided in the Premier League for Chelsea and Leicester.
The doubts regarding the national side have more to do with Deschamps than anyone else. He has been extended through 2020, but the loss to Colombia in March raised further worries about his selections and tactical prowess. Perhaps the leadership skills on the pitch will provide a greater source of inspiration for a side that sometimes looks to be starving for it, despite the natural talent.
Despite not finishing first in their UEFA qualifying group, Denmark’s performance in the playoff clash with Ireland and especially the thrashing in Ireland has created something of a buzz around the red-white, with memories from their 1998 and 1986 forays in the tournament encroaching and embedded on today’s players.
A physical side with a dash of flair, most of it provided by Christian Eriksen, coming off another terrific season with Spurs. The undoubted star of the team is surrounded by big bodies and a bit of more creative talent, most of it coming from Celta Vigo, who send both Pione Sisto, a 23-year old winger who is bound to cause headaches to defenses, and 29-year old Daniel Wass, who is likely to come off the bench, one of the few attacking options Age Hareide has at his disposal to turn to when Plan A doesn’t work.
Some see Denmark as favorites in this group, partially because of the draw, as they start the tournament against Peru and Australia before the third match vs France, a side they have a very good record against in big tournaments. Giving Eriksen consistent assistance and support through the first 270 minutes of the tournament will be the difference between the final 16 and an early trip out of Russia.
The news of Paolo Guerrero being suspended from the World Cup has hit the Peruvians hard. Instead of celebrating their first World Cup in 36 years (they are, only in a more subdued way), the worries among some of the Lima faithful is that the side is doomed without its all-time leading scorer.
Los Incas won their most recent friendly matches against Croatia and Iceland, but that says little about their chances in Russia, coming in with a side featuring very few players in Europe. Jefferson Farfan, 33 and now playing for recently crowned Russian champions Lokomotiv Moscow, is the new big hope of the side, with Christian Curva and Andre Carrillo those most likely to be his wingmen in a way.
Peru nurtured and developed a reliable defense through their South American qualifiers, relying on speed and efficiency up front to decide matches. That stinginess, allowing a bit more freedom up front, will be the decision maker in a group most believe they’ll be unable to come out of as a top 2 team.
Projected to be one of the weakest side’s in the tournament, Australia struggled to qualify from the Asian groups, finishing third, which meant playoff wins against Honduras and Syria.
The Socceroos did build on a more attacking approach after their disappointing 2014 performance, but the change from Ange Postecoglou to the much more pragmatic (yet experienced) Brett van Marwijk means the team will be a lot tighter and fewer players will venture forward, at least in the early minutes of the match.
Australia have few game-changers, but the main name is Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy, as almost everything on offense goes through him Captain Mile Jedinak, hero of that Honduras clash, is another one of Australia’s few game changers. Tim Cahill, 38, is likely going to his fourth World Cup, but will likely wait for opportunities off the bench, as Tom Juric from the Swiss league tries to provide some sort of spark to the team’s finish. Their friendly match performances against Norway and Colombia weren’t promising, but there’s still time for Van Marwijk to create something more potent and cohesive from this side.
While it does feel “boring” and “safe” to suggest it’ll be the European sides that progress, Peru and Australia are a step behind in terms of overall squad quality, judging by their players clubs and their form in the past 6 months. The Denmark-France match will likely decide the top spot, but both teams are expected to reach that match with full 6 points. Anything else will be a pretty big surprise. France 1st, Denmark 2nd, Peru 3rd, Australia 4th.