Group C seems to be one of the stronger groups in the 2018 world cup, at least on paper. The lowest ranked team in this group is Australia, at 36. The others in the group are Denmark (12), Peru (11) and France (7). There should be keen competition for the two places into the knockout stage.
Australia are the current Asian champions, but their route to the world cup was anything but easy. After finishing 3rd in their Asian group, they had to first defeat Syria in the Asian play-off, followed by a tough inter-continental play-off victory against Honduras. On top of that, they changed their coach after qualification. The former Dutch international, 66 years old Bert van Marwijk, is now their coach. Van Marwijk is widely experienced, having taken the Netherlands to the final in the 2010 world cup, losing 0-1 to Spain after extra time. His experience is one of the assets of the Australian team.
The other major asset of the Australian team is the typical Aussie never-say-die attitude. They always seem to produce teams that are greater than the sum of the individuals therein. This time, too, there could be that team effect which might trouble the higher ranked teams in the group. The Australian defence will be led by the versatile Mark Milligan, who will be appearing in his 4th cup. Behind him in goal is the excellent Matthew Ryan (2nd cup). The rest of the defenders are relatively inexperienced; the men to watch could be Aziz Behich, Trent Sainsbury and Milos Degenek.
The Australian midfield is probably their main strength. Led by experienced captain Mile Jedinak (3rd cup) it also has the 38 years old Tim Cahill (4th cup), who has this pleasant knack of getting goals whenever needed, and often doubles up as a forward. However the main man in Australia’s midfield is likely to be Aaron Mooy who had such a brilliant season in the English Premier League with Huddersfield Town. Tom Rogic, Massimo Luongo and winger Matthew Leckie are others to watch out for in midfield. The attack will probably be led by Tomi Juric, the big striker, backed up by Robbie Kruse from the wings. 19 year old Daniel Arzani may create a surprise or two if given the opportunity.
Denmark is coming into the world cup finals with a balanced team including a few outstanding individuals. Unheralded coach Age Hariede, a former Norwegian international defender, has moulded the team into a fighting unit, capable of blowing away opponents on its day, as was exhibited in the 5-1 thrashing of Ireland during the European qualifying play-offs.
In Kasper Schmeichel they have a brilliant goalkeeper. Son of Danish goalkeeping legend Peter, Schmeichel junior has outgrown the obvious (and perhaps unfair) comparisons to blossom into a splendid keeper. Ahead of him is a solid defence led by their captain Simon Kjaer, one of the 3 survivors from the 2010 squad. Alongside Kjaer are players such as Mathias Jorgensen, young Andreas Christensen, Jannik Vestergaard and full-back Jens Stryger Larsen to bolster the defence.
The midfield revolves around the mercurial Christian Eriksen, backed up by the more defensive minded William Kvist. Both were in the 2010 squad. They will be ably assisted by the likes of the veteran Michael Krohn-Dehli and the creative Thomas Delaney. Service from the wings is likely to be provided by the likes of Lasse Schone, Martin Braithwaite, Viktor Fischer, Youssuf Poulsen or the Uganda born Pione Sisto. If adequate service is provided from the midfield and the wings, Denmark have the potent strike force in Nicolai Jorgensen and Andreas Cornelius to overawe any defence in the competition.
Peru will be immensely bolstered by the return of their iconic striker and captain Paolo Guerrero, whose drugs related ban has been temporarily lifted by FIFA, not least because of appeals from their three opposing captains in the group – a splendid show of brotherhood and sportsmanship. However, under the former Argentine international striker Ricardo Gareca as coach, Peru is not at all a one man team. Gareca, Peru’s coach since 2015, has slowly but surely converted Peru into one of South America’s most interesting sides of late.
The competent Pedro Gallese is likely to be their first choice goalkeeper. Veteran Alberto Rodriguez along with Christian Ramos will probably form the heart of the defence, with Luis Advincula and Miguel Trauco the likely side backs. Aldo Corso, too, might get a look in as a full back. The young and supremely talented Renato Tapia controls the central midfield, lending support to the defence when necessary, and starting most attacks. At 22, he is already a complete player and could well establish himself as one of the emerging stars of international football during this world cup. The experienced duo of Paolo Hurtado and Yosimar Yotun will provide support from the flanks, while Christian Cueva might provide the creative flair. In attack Guerrero is definitely Peru’s best striker, even at the age of 34. Not far behind, though, is Jefferson Farfan. He, along with young Edison Flores, will provide fire-power from the wide areas.
All in all, Peru could well become the surprise team of the tournament.
France come into the world cup with a large number of hugely talented individuals, making team selection a pleasant headache for their coach Didier Deschamps. Deschamps, the captain of the 1998 world cup winning French team, will be aiming to emulate Brazil’s Mario Zagalo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer as world cup winners both as player and coach/manager.
Captain Hugo Lloris will be manning the French goal with his usual competence and command. In front of him is a defence comprising of players such as Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti and Adil Rami in the centre, with Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy as the probable side backs.
But the real strength of France is in the midfield. Deschamps will have to choose amongst defensive midfielders such as the highly industrious N’golo Kante, the experienced Blaise Matuidi, the serene Steven Nzonzi and the talented young Corentin Tolisso, along with the more attacking Paul Pogba, Thomas Lemar and Nabil Fekir. Up front is the veteran spearhead Olivier Giroud, along with the mercurial Antoine Griezmann and the hugely talented young duo of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
France have the potential to go very far in this tournament, though Deschamps will have to find the right balance.
(From the desk of Rajat Subhra Banerjee)