Didier Deschamps’ star-studded France are favourites to top Group C and will probably be followed by Denmark. However, Peru and Australia can crash their party.
With Paolo Guerrero back for Peru, Denmark vs Peru becomes an interesting clash. In all likelihood, the winner of that match will progress to the next round with France taking the top spot. Here is a look at Group C:
Group C: France, Peru, Australia, Denmark
France head into the World Cup with one of their strongest ever squads as they look to banish the memories of a painful extra-time defeat on home soil by Portugal in the Euro 2016 final. Expectations are high that a French side, that could afford to leave out the likes of Dimitri Payet, Kingsley Coman, Karim Benzema and Anthony Martial, could win a second world title.
A kind draw in Group C has only increased the pressure on Didier Deschamps’ outfit further as they head to Russia, with their first game against Australia on June 16 before facing Peru and Denmark. But previous much-vaunted France teams have fallen foul of similarly comfortable-looking groups over the years.
Embarrassing losses to Senegal and Denmark saw Les Bleus dumped out as holders in 2002. The current side showed plenty of fallibility in qualifying too, losing to Sweden and drawing with minnows Luxembourg before eventually topping their group.
Key player: Antoine Griezmann
One of the most lethal strikers in the world today, Griezmann will be on the prowl as soon as the whistle is blown. Along with Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe expect goals by the bucket-loads.
Prediction: France should leave the others scrapping for second place, although they will be keen to avoid a last-16 clash with Lionel Messi’s Argentina from Group D.
World Cup record: Their best showing in the World Cup occurred exactly 20 years ago when they were crowned champions for the first time in 1998.
Scheduled to meet highly-fancied France in their World Cup opener on June 16, Bert Van Marwijk’s men have a tough road ahead of them. Australia are based at the Trudovye Rezervy Stadium, the training centre of local top ice-hockey side Ak Bars Kazan.
Van Marwijk’s greatest moment was leading the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010, when the ‘Oranje’ were beaten 1-0 by Spain in South Africa. But this current Australia crop would only seriously begin to impress home fans if they managed to qualify from a Group C.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding the starting XI and there is a sense of over-reliance on their talismanic forward and top scorer, Tim Cahill.
Key player: Tim Cahill
Australia’s ageing talisman Tim Cahill has endured a rocky road to his fourth World Cup. However, he is Australia’s all-time top scorer, with 50 goals, and has 105 caps, a record for an outfield player. On his day the ex-Evertonian can still hassle and harry opposition defences.
Prediction: Australia are nowhere close to their golden generation, which took to the field at Germany 2006. This current crop will do well to finish second, but are likely to end up at the bottom of this group.
World Cup record: Australia’s best World Cup performance was reaching the last 16 under Guus Hiddink in 2006. A dubious penalty call at the last minute saw them lose 1-0 to Italy.
Freed from his doping ban, Peru’s captain and main goalscorer Paolo Guerrero comes into the squad at the expense of Sergio Pena. Midfielder Pena signalled that he had been omitted with a post of his Instagram account on Sunday after playing as a second-half substitute as Peru beat Saudi Arabia, 3-0, in a World Cup warm-up game. Peru will also need a spark from another veteran attacker Jefferson Farfan, a 33-year-old who made a name for himself at PSV Eindhoven and Schalke and now plays in Russia for Lokomotiv Moscow.
Peru are going to their first World Cup since 1982. They open their Group C campaign against Denmark in Saransk on June 16.
Key player: Paolo Guerrero
Peru’s captain and main goal scorer Paolo Guerrero is one of the country’s finest strikers. The mercurial captain has scored 34 goals for his country so far.
World Cup record: Peru’s best World Cup performance came way back in 1970 when they reached the quarter-finals. They have participated in five World Cups till date.
Prediction: Provided France finish first, the fight for second place is what Denmark, Peru and Australia are scrambling for. It is advantage Denmark as Peru are likely to finish third.
Christian Eriksen’s Denmark could prove to be the best of the rest. Nicknamed “King Christian”, Eriksen is one of the top players in the Premier League and has been voted Danish footballer of the year four times.
“It’s not quite true that Denmark is over-dependent on Eriksen,” said Norwegian coach Age Hareide. “We have a team that works for him but he also works for us. It’s not a one-man show. That is the best combination. Christian is a part of the team but he is also a star, a fantastic football player,” said Hareide before a training session in sunny Anapa near the Black Sea coast.
He said if opponents consider Denmark a one-man team that could play into their hands as it would mean less focus on other creative players who can create chances. A picture posted on social media of a World Cup T-shirt on sale in Copenhagen jokingly claims that Denmark’s sole tactic in Russia will be to keep giving the ball to Eriksen until he scores.
Viktor Fischer and Kasper Dolberg should also prove to be a handful in attack as veterans Michael Krohn-Dehli and Lasse Schone will provide the experience in midfield. Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen and Sevilla’s Simor Kjaer will look to shut-out opposition, while sitting in front of number one Kasper Schmeichel.
Key player: Christian Eriksen
The Tottenham midfielder arrived at the World Cup in red-hot international form, with 12 goals in 13 games, the latest being a strike against Mexico in Denmark’s final warm-up match. Clearly lack of form is not a cause of concern but support from the rest of the cast is.
Prediction: They are expected to finish second. Even though the side is way too dependent on Eriksen, given their recent run in the warm-ups, they are likely to beat Peru for the second spot.
World Cup record: Denmark are participating in their fifth World Cup and their best performance came way back in 1998 when they reached the quarter-finals.
(With inputs from AFP)
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