2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group C

 Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Much like Group A, we find ourselves having one clear favorite to finish at the top of the group (France) while we see second place being a fight between the remaining teams, particularly two have a real shot. France should comfortably advance but Denmark and Peru both have a shout of making the knockout rounds via a second place finish while Australia are trying to play spoilers once again.

Group A preview
Group B preview

Group D preview
Group E preview
Group F preview
Group G preview
Group H preview

France

As one would expect, France are the presumed favorites of this group and with good reason. They are one of the deepest squads in the entire tournament and are some people’s pick to win it all. France cruised through UEFA qualifying, losing only one game in a group which included Sweden and the Netherlands. The campaign was impressive despite drawing against the likes of Belarus and Luxembourg during it. France will need to be on their A game from the start in this World Cup. Especially if they want to advance deep into the tournament. Last time around, they lost to eventual winners Germany with a Mats Hummels header being the difference.

France boast one of the top squads and have quality on all three levels of the pitch. Starting with attack, where they have Atletico Madrid strike Antoine Griezmann at striker, who scored 4 goals during qualifying. He will likely be flanked by starlets Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, both have impressed at the club level and are expected to get a lot of minutes in Russia. More questions will be asked of Dembele cause of his rocky first season with Barcelona where he suffered from injury. Mbappe can also play as a striker and his movement to find gaps in the defense will be key. He’s a great all around playmaker and will get everyone involved. They just need to get him the ball. Defense will be strong with Hugo Lloris at the back, who despite the occasional keeping error, is still a top goalie. Samuel Umtiti was a top five defender in Europe for FC Barcelona and will be flanked by Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. Both are under 26 years and represent the new age of defense with Laurent Koscielny out of the tournament with an injury.

In the midfield Didier Deschamps will have numerous options to choose from. There are a bunch of combinations he could roll out. An ideal midfield would be one of Steven N’Zonzi, N’Golo Kante, and Paul Pogba. N’Zonzi is a great passer, as shown when he plays for Sevilla, and along with Kante can protect the backline by playing the role of destroying an opposing counterattacks. Both N’Zonzi and Kante can get back on defense and eat up space in a hurry. This will allow Pogba to go forward, where he is the most useful. Using Pogba in a holding role would be a grave mistake and would limit his creativity offensively. France gets a lot better when Pogba is up the pitch for offensive support.

The France are the best team in this group and should advance easily. It will take them some major slip ups to finish anything lower than first place.  

Denmark

While France’s UEFA qualifying campaign was quite smooth sailing, the same can’t be said about Denmark’s. They finished second in Group E behind Poland and thanks to a draw against Romania, were able to hold off Montenegro in third place. From there Denmark advanced to the playoff-off round where they faced off against the Republic of Ireland in a two-leg tie. After a tense 0-0 draw in Copenhagen, Denmark was facing some pressure as they went to Dublin for the return leg. The pressure was short lived as Denmark beat the brakes off Ireland in the second leg, beating them 5-1 with Christian Eriksen scoring a hattrick.

When looking at this squad, it’s clear that Eriksen will be running the show for them in Russia. Everything offensively will go through the Spurs midfielder, just like it did in qualifying. Along with the hattrick in the second round, Eriksen scored 8 goals in qualifying for his country. A very creative player in the final third, he will be the perfect set up man for Denmark and you will see a majority of their chances generated by him. At striker however, Denmark don’t have a target man as Nicklas Bendtner is out of the squad due to injury. It’s a roll of the dice in terms of who will start up for the Danish. Martin Braithwaite, Andreas Cornelius, Yuusuf Polsen, Nicolai Jorgensen, and even Ajax youngster Kasper Dolberg will be options for manager Age Hareide. It will be great to see Eriksen be used to his best offensively but it means nothing for Denmark if they can’t score goals and by looking at their strike force, it’s going to be a fight to put the ball in the back of the net.

At the back goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will be the leader. The Leicester City goalkeeper had another solid year in the Premier League and will not be an issue for them. The real problem for Denmark will be in front of him. Sevilla centre back Simon Kjaer will likely be captaining the side and leads a defense which only gave up 8 goals in qualifying, the least total in their group.

Denmark are stingy at the back and rely a fat chunk of their offensive potential on the shoulders of Eriksen. They will be hard to break down but there are numerous questions about their attack. It really comes down to the game against Peru which will decide their fate. If they can knock them off, they have a solid shot at second place in Group C.

Peru

Like Denmark, Peru had a stressful journey to the World Cup as they had some nervy moments during their qualification process. They finished 5th in the CONMEBOL qualifying on goal difference and were able to hold off Chile as both nations were tied on 26 points each. It was much thanks to a draw against Colombia combined with a Chile loss to Brazil which sent Peru to a playoff round. In the playoff round, Peru faced off against New Zealand and were able to cruise to a 2-0 aggregate victory with both goals coming in the away leg. Now they are looking to play as an upset team looking to capture the attention of the world.

Peru has some experienced players, with 5 members of their WC squad having played 60 or more caps for them. Luckily for Peru, it’s spread all over the pitch. Christian Ramos and Luis Advincula provide stability at the back while Orlando City’s Yoshimar Yotun and Watford’s Andre Carrillo could be useful options in the midfield. But Peru’s strong point is in their attack.

While Jefferson Farfan and Raul Ruidiaz are also options up top, a big boost for Peru came last week when it was announced that striker Paolo Guerrero’s ban for drugs had been lifted, allowing the player to be selected for the final 23-man squad. Being the country’s leading goalscorer in their entire history, getting Guerrero back instantly makes Peru a dangerous side in Group C. All of the attack relies on Guerrero and he’s completely fine with being the focal point of it all. He instantly made his presence known by coming back from the suspension and scoring a brace against Saudi Arabia in a recent friendly. It seems he is picking up where he left off.

Like Denmark, there is a path for Peru to qualify through the knockout stages in this group. But it will all depend on how they play the Danish. Picking up points against Australia will be crucial as well. They rely a lot on Guerrero’s smarts and instincts to get them goals but they will need a step up from everyone all over the pitch if they want to make noise in the first World Cup they’ve been to in 36 years.

Australia

It seems to be a trend here in Group C but like the two previous teams before them, Australia also had to go through a playoff-round to get here. They finished third in Group B of AFC qualifying, finishing third to Saudi Arabia on goal difference as both sides were tied on 19 points and despite Australia beating Thailand 2-1 on the final matchday. Australia then had to play the 3rd team in Group A, Syria, in a two-leg playoff. After drawing 1-1 in the first leg the two teams headed to Sydney for an all-important second leg. There it finished 1-1 as well and off we went to extra time. There, Australian legend Tim Cahill scored the game winning goal in 109th minute to send Australia to another playoff round. This time it was against Honduras with the winner going to the World Cup. Again the first leg didn’t break the deadlock with the score being 0-0 but once again the Aussies came back to life when the tie switched to Sydney for the second leg. Captain Mile Jedinak scored a hattrick to send them to the World Cup on a 3-1 aggregate scoreline.

Although this is only Australia's 4th World Cup in their history, they do have some players who have a lot of experience at this level. Particularly when it comes to Cahill and Jedinak. Those two are the anchors of the Socceroos and will provide leadership wherever needed. Cahill is the greatest ever Australian goalscorer, and scored an absolute stunner against the Netherlands in the 2014 group stage, but at age 38 who knows how much impact he will have in attack. But luckily for him, some of the younger guys stepped up in qualifying. Tomi Juric scored 5 and Herta Berlin’s Mathew Leckie scored 3 for the Socceroos during qualifying. Those two are going to be the top selections if former Dutch boss Bert Van Marwijk decides to not start Cahill, which is a likely scenario.

As per usual, Australia will look to generate a lot of their goals on the counter as they are one of the weaker teams in this group. But their midfield has some quality players who can funnel the ball to wingers or even start a counter themselves. Jedinak is a steady presence sitting back in front of the back four while Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy is also someone to look for in the midfield. QPR’s Massimo Luongo is also worth a look at well. It’s a good mix of talent in the Australian midfield but as always, it’s how the defend which will see if they can hold their own in this group.

Matty Ryan is a quality goalie at the back and his experience playing for teams such as Valencia, Genk, and Brighton should help. There are questions ahead of him with only one Australian defender on this team having more than 30 caps, which would be Trent Sainsbury, who spent 2017 on loan at Inter. The Australian defense can’t afford to give up an easy goals like they did in qualifying as they are already going to be under a lot of pressure defensively.

Australia is the real underdog in this group but it isn’t as bad as they had it in 2014 when they were slotted with Spain, Chile, and the Netherlands. This time it’s a lot more easier with the teams they are grouped with. They will likely need to snatch wins against both Denmark and Peru back to back. The first mountain to climb is against France. They can’t afford to get blown out, mostly due to goal difference. If they can somehow get a draw it could go a long way in the Aussies making a shock run to the knockout rounds.

Prediction

Like Group A, we already know who is finishing first in this group, it’s France. Second place is once again up for grabs, mostly between Denmark and Peru. It’s a very tough call and cases are strong for both sides but Denmark has a real playmaker in Eriksen and he will be the difference. The first matchday, which pits the two sides against each other will likely decide the way the group will tilt

France, Denmark, Peru, Australia