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France

Can all the flair and talent be harnessed into a French team capable of claiming a second World Cup title?

The French arrive in Russia with one of the most expensive and talented squads and depending on who you speak to, could either win the tournament or fall in a screaming heap somewhere around the group stage.

Could it be any other way with the French? With a potential front six including names like N'Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembélé, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé, Manager Didier Deschamps may struggle to find the right combinations, such is the quality available to him.

After six years at the helm and a Euro 2016 campaign where, as hosts, France finished runners-up to Portugal, the manager will look to inspire a performance that exceeds their quarter-final result in 2014. After a tricky and at times awkward qualifying campaign that saw clumsy draws and a final ladder that failed to reflect the inconsistency of their play, many see significant flaws in the French team. The question remains as to whether those flaws can be ironed out in time for a successful campaign in Russia. 

The challenge will be to clear the slate and the players’ minds, and allow the squad to exude the flair and talent it undoubtedly possesses. 

However, such talent brings expectation and pressure. In a perfect French world, Les Bleus cruise through qualification and use their immense talent to knock off opponents one by one in the knockout phase.

In a parallel universe, things might go horribly wrong for one of the most watchable of the 32 teams.

Head Coach: Didier Deschamps

Key Player: Antoine Griezmann (pictured)

One to watch: Kylian Mbappé

Australia

Nobody travelled further to get to Russia but can Australia make the trip worth the while?

If you are ever seeking a definition of awkward just recap Australia’s qualifying campaign that saw the players clock up frequent flyer points like they had never done so before. 

After stumbling to third place in their Asian Confederation group play-offs (only on goal difference), the Socceroos took a trip to Syria and then Honduras before finally booking their place in Russia with a win against the Central Americans in Sydney.

Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Japan had already been stop over points and the normal theatre of an Australian World Cup qualifying campaign was played out once again.

On only one occasion have the men in gold progressed from the group stage and they did it in style in 2006 in Germany. Previous manager Ange Postecoglou was building and moulding a squad he felt could take on the world and play football of an international standard.

During the qualification campaign cracks began to appear and the boss departed to a domestic position in Japan. Former Saudi coach Bert van Marwijk has been brought in on a temporary appointment to steer the ship through the finals campaign and a challenge it will be.

The Socceroos are not a high scoring team and will need to find goals beyond their legend Tim Cahill who will play in his fourth World Cup. This group will be an immense challenge for the Aussies and with an opening clash against the French looming, they could find the emotional let-down of a potentially embarrassing loss too much to overcome.

Head Coach: Bert van Marwijk

Key Player: Tom Rogic

One to watch: Mathew Ryan

Denmark

Is it time for the main man to become a Danish legend?

It is debateable whether any other team will have as much discussion and focus placed on one individual nor have their chances at the World Cup rest so heavily on him.

Christian Eriksen is a star. Everybody realises that. However, does the 26-year-old Tottenham man have enough talent around him to seriously threaten some of the more fancied chances? Before contemplating that, Denmark will need to navigate this group and that could be no easy task. 

A win against Peru in the first game, and then the men from Down Under in the second, would secure their path to the round of 16 and also ease the potential pressure of a clash with the French if points are required. 

The last time the Danes moved beyond the group stage was in 2022, and they have failed to qualify for two of the last three tournaments. Qualification this time around was no easy feat with a 5-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland sealing their spot after finishing second to Poland in the first phase.

With all eyes on Eriksen, it will be important for Ugandan-born winger Pione Sisto and the 190cm striker Nicolai Jorgensen to carry some weight (and height in Jorgensen’s case) if the Danes are to have a World Cup to remember.

Head Coach: Age Hareide

Key Player: Christian Eriksen

One to watch: Pione Sisto

Peru

Can Peru really put everything behind them and refocus on football? 

If Australia’s qualification journey was dramatic, the saga around the drug suspension handed to Paolo Guerrero, and the subsequent adjustment to the original decision, may just have matched it.

After claiming that the traces of cocaine in his system stemmed from specially brewed Peruvian tea, the 34-year-old captain had his nation and much of the football world, including the opposing captains, rally around him – initiated largely by FIFPro - in his bid to be reinstated to the squad. Once achieved, it was business as usual for Guerrero, with a recent brace against Saudi Arabia providing a perfect warm up for the challenges ahead.

Peru are making their first appearance at the finals since 1982, and without their talisman stood little chance of success. As is the case with both Denmark and Australia, the Peruvians will eye one another as a potential opportunity to advance to the round of 16. Their opening match with Denmark might just decide their fate and that of the Danes.

Guerrero is a veteran and this will be his first and last World Cup, something sure to motivate both him and his team. Midfielder Christian Cueva could be the perfect foil he requires up front. Peru will be predictably dangerous in attack yet if their qualification campaign was anything to go by, defensive cracks could be an issue.

Only a 2-0 home victory against New Zealand secured its place in Russia and big improvements would need to be made if Peru is to provide a serious threat to the bigger teams.

Head Coach: Ricardo Gareca

Key Player: Paolo Guerrero

One to watch: Christian Cueva


Categories: Analysis | World Cup

2018 world cup, #russia2018, group c, france, australia, denmark, peru, socceroos

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