The Socceroos will be up against it in Group C against a much-fancied France side, while Denmark and Peru also offer strong challenges to Australia’s hopes of emerging from the group.

France

Road to Russia 

France qualified for Russia courtesy of topping the tricky Group A of UEFA qualifying ahead of Sweden and the Netherlands. Across 10 fixtures France dropped just one game to the Swedes midway through 2017 in what was an otherwise routine qualifying process.

Since losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal France have only tasted defeat twice to the previously mentioned Swedes and to Colombia in a friendly three months ago. A full strength side drew 1-1 with the USA just a week ago in a less than ideal farewell match for a squad with massive expectations.

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Coach

Didier Deschamps has been at the helm of France since his predecessor Laurent Blanc resigned following a disappointing Euro 2012 tournament.

Deschamps has managed his side to victory in 48 of 77 games since taking over in 2012 and so nearly tasted the ultimate success at Euro 2016 bar a heartbreaking extra-time loss to Portugal in the final.

Deschamps has a multitude of egos and outrageous talent in this French squad to manage but the recent results show that he can be the man to lead France to glory.

Key players

The amount of talent flowing out of France right now is outrageous and a quick peek at the unlucky list of French stars that failed to make the final 23 is a good indicator.

Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele combine to make a lethal front three and will hopefully provide plenty of highlights throughout the World Cup. Midfielders N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are world-class players and both will have plenty of work to do in France’s fluid attack-minded system.

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Verdict

France is one of the clear-cut favourites to win in Russia and on paper they should easily top this group unscathed. They’ve shown that they could handle the pressure of knockout football during their Euro 2016 but a lack of experience could come back to bite them in the latter stages of the tournament. Nonetheless, France is more than capable of going all the way in Russia.

Australia

Road to Russia

Well, it was one hell of a journey for the Socceroos to reach Russia. Galloping across Asia in a rollercoaster qualification campaign, Australia would end the third round of AFC qualification in the third position of Group B and ultimately miss out on the two automatic spots available. After defeating Syria in the subsequent AFC playoffs 3-2 on aggregate the Socceroos then progressed to a do or die home and away playoff leg with Honduras. A nil all draw away in Honduras set up the home leg perfectly for the Socceroos who would eventually qualify for Russia with a 3-1 win courtesy of a hat-trick from captain Mile Jedinak.

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Coach

Dutchman Bert van Marwijk filled the vacancy left behind by former coach Ange Postecoglou in January of 2018 and will only manage the side for the World Cup in a short-term contract. The experienced coach comes with a lot of pedigree including guiding the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final and was familiar with the Socceroos after coaching Saudi Arabia during the qualification stages before departing the position after a breakdown in contract discussions.

Van Marwijk is a big fan of Diego Simeone’s tactics at Atletico Madrid and will look to impart that same mentality and structure in the hope that he can take Australia into the knockout phases of the World Cup.

Key players

Aaron Mooy enjoyed a decent debut season in the Premier League and a good showing from the midfield maestro will be much needed for Australia to progress past the group stage.

Goalkeeper Mat Ryan will look to bring his stellar club form with him to Russia and will be relying on Trent Sainsbury to have a breakout performance tournament in the defensive line to stave away the dangerous attacking threats of Australia’s opponents.

Expect a solid tournament from an in-form Mathew Leckie on the wings as well as the potential for a few moments of brilliance from young phenomenon Daniel Arzani should he see game-time.

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Verdict

Australia head to Russia with no expectations or pressure. The much coveted second spot in this group is a lottery and it would be no surprise to see the Socceroos playing in a last 16 fixture at the assumed expense of Denmark and Peru or on the flip side going home with no points at all.

Denmark

Road to Russia

Denmark qualified for their fifth World Cup Finals appearance via finishing 2nd in Group E behind Poland, earning them a playoff birth with the Republic of Ireland for a spot in Russia. Denmark emerged victorious from the tie following a ruthless 5-1 away win in the second leg. Christian Eriksen scored a hat-trick that night in Dublin and is Denmark’s standout star by far as well as their top scorer during qualification for Russia with 11 goals.

The Danes have not tasted defeat on the international stage since a 1-0 loss to Montenegro way back in October 2016.

Coach

Åge Hareide has been coaching the Danes since December 2015. His coaching career includes a stint with the Norwegian national team from 2004 to 2008 as well as leading multiple Scandinavian clubs across Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Key players

Denmark have ventured to Russia with an experienced squad full of players plying their trades in the top leagues of Europe. However, this side relies heavily on the sublime talent of Eriksen who is one of the world’s best from the attacking midfield position and has been extremely impressive at Tottenham Hotspur for quite a few seasons now.

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Yussuf Poulsen and Nicolai Jørgensen provide strong options upfront and will give opposing defensive lines plenty to deal with throughout the World Cup.

Verdict

On paper Denmark has the second-best claim of progressing out of this group with France, however, their first match against Peru will determine a big part of how their World Cup plays out.

Denmark’s reliance on Eriksen is a double-edged sword and should he fail to fire in the group stage it may result in the Danes heading home early. The talent is there for Denmark to go a considerable way in Russia it’s just whether or not they will be able to break down Australia and Peru who will both likely set up resolutely in defence and play on the counter. If they get out of this group it would be no shock to see Danish flags waving come quarter-final time.

Peru

Road to Russia

Peru sent the country into raptures last year when they qualified for their first World Cup since 1982 with an inter-confederation two-legged playoff win over New Zealand 2-0.

Peru finished 5th in CONMEBOL qualifying prior to facing New Zealand, finishing level on points with fierce rivals Chile. However, on goal difference they would edge out the Chileans in what was a famous and crazy final matchday in South American qualifying.

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Coach

Former Argentinian international Ricardo Gareca has been in charge since 2015 and in that time has brought considerable success to Peru including a third-place finish at the Copa America in 2015.

Key players

Veteran striker and captain Paolo Guerrero will take part in Russia after having his 14-month drug ban delayed until after the World Cup following a lengthy campaign to allow the 34-year-old to take part in Russia.

Guerrero will provide the main threat up front but will have assistance from Jefferson Farfan and Andre Carrillo surging forward from the wings and midfield.

Verdict

Peru will be the ultimate unpredictable’s of this group and much like Denmark have entered the World Cup without a defeat since 2016. Again, like Denmark, their first match of the tournament against the Danes will be a big indicator of what will transpire for Peru and the 40,000 fans that have travelled to Russia to support their beloved national team. Peru possess enough grit and talent to make it out this group and would not be a favourable knockout round opponent for any side at this World Cup.

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Josh is in the final stages of a journalism degree at The University of Queensland and is also firmly aboard the Arzani hype-train.