2018 FIFA World Cup – Group C
The teams: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Undeniably, on paper, Didier Deschamps and his French side should undertake a walkover in group C. However, delving into the structure of this group and undertaking further analysis of the four teams, the group may not be as easy as it looks on paper with three of four teams in the group acquiring a place in the top 12 of FIFA’s World rankings.
There is no doubt that the French, who were successful in the 1998 World Cup with a team including the current manager, have assembled one of the most accomplished and adept squads in the competition. Having said this, there will be high public expectation on Deschamps side in which the remaining group teams of Denmark, Peru and Australia will relish.
Odds to win the competition – 6/1 (Sky Bet)
Method of qualification – UEFA Group A Winners
The French squad is consistently improving under Deschamps and they are a side with considerable depth and sheer quality. Depth is prevalent in all departments and the names of players not taken to Russia with France include Lacazette, Martial, Payet and Benzema. The aforementioned players would likely make most countries 23-men squad for Russia which highlights the considerable selection dilemmas the manager has put up with.
In their last appearance in the competition, they were knocked out by eventual winners Germany in the quarterfinal. Yet, with the high level of public expectation placed on a side littered with talent, this assumption that they will walk group C and cruise to at least the final four could haunt them. The side were expected to see-off Portugal in the Euro 2016 Final in their home-country yet suffered an extra-time defeat to finish runners-up.
What stands out in the French side is the impressive array of attacking talent at Deschamps disposal. Most notably, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann will be looked upon to provide his talent on the world stage alongside PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. Perhaps surprisingly, Deschamps often looks towards Olivier Giroud to spearhead the attack and to offer his side a consistent balance of strength and deadliness alongside trickery and speed. However, with all the talk about their attacking prowess, it is often forgotten about their ability in the defensive and midfield areas. A strong core is the highlight of this French team and with an experienced Premier League goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris standing between the sticks it will be difficult to score past Les Bleus in Russia. He will be supported by a solid defensive pairing of Umtiti and Varane in the absence of established Laurent Koscielny.
Most recently, the French side have played with a 4-3-3 formation although a 4-2-3-1 formation was preferred at the European Championships two years ago. Perhaps, the side which has one of the most skillful teams at the tournament are most fortunate enough to possess one of the games fittest and sharpest individual in the centre of the park. Ngolo Kante is no stranger to the English fans watching this year and he will certainly make himself known to all of Denmark, Peru and Australia when they meet during the tournament. The 5ft 6 Frenchman has consistently shone in recent seasons and his ability to stop a team on the attack and soak up oncoming pressure is second to none. Another part of the French midfield will certainly be Manchester United’s Paul Pogba. Pogba has faced some criticism in the Premier League as of late, however there is no denying the 25-year-old has a special talent and his freedom to attack knowing Kante will be covering behind is likely to work in France’s favour.
The French did qualify ahead of the illustrious Dutch side as well as Sweden. Yet, perhaps surprisingly they only managed 18 goals in the process. Having the mix of a stabilised defence and a star-studded attack will be the key to France and they are highly fancied to go far in this tournament. And it is hard to argue against that.
Odds to win the competition – 80/1 (Sky Bet)
Method of qualification – UEFA Second Round Winners
The Danes produced an impressive 5-1 victory in a second leg against Ireland to make it to Russia and it was a performance which proved their team evolves around one man, a man most should be familiar with, and a man who is truly the star of this Denmark side. Christian Eriksen netted a hatrick in the 5-1 win in Dublin and his manager, Age Hareide, doesn’t hide the fact that his team is built around the Tottenham play-marker. The 26-year-old missed Denmark’s World Cup warm up vs Sweden last week and the goalless draw almost highlighted how the Danes missed Eriksen when he is not on the teamsheet.
Denmark did not manage to qualify for Brazil in 2014 and finished third in a group containing Netherlands, Japan and Cameron in South Africa in 2010. It’s almost impossible to think that just over 20 years ago, during 1997, the country were third in the FIFA world rankings. Yet, the country has had a slight turn in fortune since then as highlighted by not qualifying for Brazil in 2014 and also missing out in the most recent European Championships in France. During April last year the club fell to 51st in the FIFA rankings which notably is their lowest ever rank. Having said this, the clubs fortunes have recently taken another shift and their group of players heading to Russia is arguably the most talented selection they have had in a generation. This will result in a high level of optimism amongst the Danish nation and they will certainly fancy themselves to advance.
Their opening fixture against Peru will prove pivotal and the winner of this tie will most likely progress alongside France into the last 16 of the competition. Although the side may be built around Eriksen, Hareide possesses a strong core and some well known players and he will be looking towards this stabilised core to provide the experience necessary to see off Peru and Australia.
Denmark are fortunate to own an experienced goalkeeper in Kasper Schmiechel, who although like most of the squad has no major tournament experience, has a wealth of knowledge playing for Leicester City in the Premier League. The 23-man squad has experience across many of the major top leagues. In front of the shot-stopper is accomplished Simon Kjaer who has amassed 74 caps for his national side. His partner is often dependable on the fixture yet Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen will likely play in the opening fixture vs Peru. Moving forward into midfield will be the perfect mix of experience and audacity with a partnership of Thomas Delaney and William Kvist likely to pair up in the centre.
Odds to win the competition – 200/1 (Sky Bet)
Method of qualification – OFC v CONMEBOL Play-Off Winners
If the world FIFA ranking of Denmark may be a surprise to readers, they will also be shocked to find their group rivals, Peru, sitting one above them in the most recent published ranks. Peru sit 11th in the rankings yet with Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia all occupying spaces above them in qualifying, they had to edge out Chile to gain a play-off place where they met New Zealand and completed a 2-0 victory over two legs. Taking this into context, the Incas clearly deserve their spot in the rankings and after a 36-year exile from the most prestigious football competition on earth, they find themselves back in the competition and will be keen to provide their nation something to cheer about.
The identity of Peru is playing as an effective unit and there is a real sense of a partnership within this team. They don’t play as individuals and their head coach, Ricardo Gareca, has got the team playing with no fear. Gareca’s side are now unbeaten in 14 matches and are possibly on the best streak out of all teams going into the competition, they have also managed 10 goals in the last four matches and were the third highest scorers in South American qualifying. Alongside their efficient system, expect attacking play from Peru and predict a nothing to lose approach to their three group fixtures.
There has been drama surrounding the Peru team leading up to the World Cup with captain, Paolo Guerrero, having a doping ban temporarily lifted for Russia. The Flamengo striker tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine in their qualifier against Argentina last year. He was handed a 12-month ban by FIFA on December 8th and has since had a real roller-coaster of emotions as to whether he would appear on the world’s greatest stage.
The inclusion of Guerrero in the 23-man squad is a real boost to Peru as he is extremely valuable to their squad. As target man up top he gives his squad confidence that he has the ability to receive the ball, hold it up and even add goals to his performances. The team has no distinctive formation and there is the possibility of Guerrero playing alongside Jefferson Farfan who will know his surroundings in Russia as he has this season been performing for Lokomotiv Moscow, where he bagged 14 goals. He also has seven years at German club Schalke where he appeared over 150 times. A partnership between the two could be lethal and could be vital to the team progressing.
Providing the assists for the two mentioned individuals will likely be Andre Carillo who is Peru’s only Premier League representative. On loan at Watford he could also provide the goals and is one to watch on the world stage.
Odds to win the competition – 750/1 (Sky Bet)
Method of qualification – CONCACAF v AFC Play-Off Winners
As well as dramas with Peru, there are dramas with Australia too. Ange Postecoglou who got the team into the World Cup, will not be the man on the sidelines on June 16th against the French. Bert Van Marwijk will be the man patrolling the area in front the bench as his predecessor left just a week after the playoff win against the Hondurans.
Without doubt and without showing any signs of disrespect, it would be a miracle if Australia were to pick up any points in a demanding group C. The slight positive over Peru and Denmark is that they did appear in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup whereas the aforementioned failed to reach the tournament. They also easily surpassed their play-off contenders, Hondorus, in a 3-1 win back in November. On that day it was a familiar name who secured a hatrick to book Australia’s place in Russia and is the more familiar players to most reading this article who will provide Australia with most firepower and any form of hope to progress from a demanding group.
Mile Jedinak who has spent the last two seasons at Aston Villa and previously spent five years at Crystal Palace is the nations captain and the second most experienced player, behind Tim Cahill, heading to Russia. He will be a pivotal function alongside Huddersfield’s Aaran Mooy in the Australian line up. These two players offer the Aussies something different with the former providing stability and strength in the centre of the park and the latter providing more flare and openness in his game.
This is the nation’s fourth straight qualification for footballs greatest tournament and although their ranks are considerably weaker than tournaments gone by, they are certainly not out of consideration to advance to the final 16. The squad also contains the likes of Celtics Tom Rogic who has appeared almost 40 times for the Socceroos and Brighton’s Matt Ryan who will have the difficult task of stopping the three teams they face in the group.
Their last two results have been positive with the nation picking up a 0-0 draw with fellow tournament hopefuls Columbia as well as a 4-0 win against Czech Republic. Their fate in Russia is yet to be told but they certainly will not go out without a fight.
I would be astonished if France didn’t top this group. Although I have mentioned the high level of optimism within France and their fans, I feel they will do enough to get out of the group on top. Peru vs Denmark will be a real three-pointer with both sides expected to gain three points vs the Socceroo’s. I feel Peru could be a dark-horse in this tournament. They have done well to get to Russia in a tough South-American qualification process and their impressive form has continued since. Although Australia do have World Cup experience, their team is unlikely to possess enough to progress to the final 16.
Written by Eamon Kitching.