When the World Cup draw was made at the beginning of December last year, the most popular angle in the sporting press was that there was no “Group of Death.” However, there were some fascinating pairings, and, perhaps with the exception of the hosts’ group, all looked evenly-matched. Only one group (H) does not feature a former World Cup winner. So, what is in store for Les Bleus in the last half of June this summer?
Upon first glance, Group C doesn’t hold any of the obvious pitfalls that are present in some of the other groups. Guardedly, Deschamps welcomed the draw by saying “it could have been worse.” And it certainly could have. Going into it, his side could have been put in the same group as England, Spain or Uruguay. Instead, they got Denmark. At 3 to 1 odds, both France and Brazil are the clearest favourites to win their respective groups.
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France’s opponents in the group stage come from three different continents, and all of them qualified for the tournament via play-offs. The games will come thick and fast, with three matches in a hectic 10-day period. The team will also be picking up a considerable number of air miles, as one feature of this tournament will be the lack of home bases for the seeded teams. All three games are at different venues and, given the sheer size of each country, it remains to be seen what effect this will have on the teams and the fans.
First up is Australia. After qualification their coach departed, but the Socceroos have turned a potential problem into a positive advantage by appointing the experienced Bert van Marwijk on a short-term basis. The Dutchman’s CV is impressive, including steering his home nation to an extra time defeat against Spain in the 2010 final. There are certainly no expectations that he will be able to repeat that feat in Russia, but Australia do have some talented players dotted throughout their starting eleven. Whereas Tim Cahill has been their stand-out player for practically the past two decades, the 38-year-old will have a midfield with the likes of Huddersfield’s Aaron Moy, Hertha Berlin’s Mathew Leckie, and Celtic’s Tom Rogic alongside (and behind) him.
Peru will be at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, courtesy of a play-off win against New Zealand after finishing fifth in their qualification group. That may not sound impressive, but don’t forget how Argentina struggled to qualify, and Peru also finished ahead of Chile. Coach Ricardo Gareca has his team playing attractive, possession football that harkens back to their most successful era of the 1970’s. The team is built around an impressive spine, and there is creativity and pace throughout the side. They are not fancied and are certainly flying under the radar, but Los Incas are capable of causing an upset in Russia. Let us just hope it is not on 21st June.
The final game of the group is against second favourites Denmark. Any side that features Christian Eriksen always needs to be treated with respect. The Spurs star has had another superb season in the EPL, which even threatened to outshine teammate Harry Kane. However, Denmark are not a one-man team; they have quality (if unheralded) players in all positions. They finished behind a much-fancied Poland side in qualifying, but their 4-0 demolition of that same Polish team, along with the way they swept aside the Republic of Ireland in the play-offs, means that Deschamps’ men will have to be at the top of their game if they aren’t to come unstuck.