Getting underway on Saturday 16th June, group C includes a tournament favourite in France, a potential dark horse in Denmark and a team at their first World Cup since 1982 in Peru. Asian champions Australia, meanwhile, are the final team in the group.
France will be expected to get no less than the maximum nine points on offer in this group with the abundance of talent they have in their squad. The abundance of talent available to the French manager can be clearly seen by looking at some of the players omitted from the panel, such as Alexandre Lacazette and Adrian Rabiot. Dimitri Payet also misses out due to injury and he may well be a significant loss as the Marseille playmaker scored some pivotal goals in his country’s run to the Euro 2016 final.
Those who have made the plane are expected to play in either a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation. At their home Euros two years ago, manager Didier Deschamps tended to favour a 4-4-2 with Antoine Griezmann being partnered by Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud up front. Playing with Giroud often gets the best out of Griezmann but the partnership also means that either Blaise Matiudi, Paul Pogba or N’Golo Kante will have to sit on the bench.
For this reason, it appears that 4-3-3 is more likely for Les Bleus and it was in this formation that they defeated Italy 3-1 in a recent friendly. Flanking Griezmann up top will probably be Kylian Mbappé and one of Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembélé. All three of these are thrilling pacey young players who will add a directness to France’s attack. In midfield, Pogba will once again be under enormous pressure to perform and with Bayern’s Corentin Tolisso poised to take his place, should he once again disappoint.
If anyone is to take points off France in this group, Denmark are perhaps the best bet. They, of course, made it to Russia by hammering Ireland 5-1 in the second leg of the playoffs. Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen got a hat-trick of the highest quality that night in Dublin and coach Åge Hareide will want everything to flow through Eriksen again.
More generally, Denmark seem to be a well-balanced team who have solid defensive players to call upon such as Simon Kjaer, Andres Christiansen and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. They also have enough flair to support Eriksen – who will pull the strings in midfield, to threaten most teams going forward. Pione Sisto is an industrious but skilful left winger, while RB Leipzig’s tall but deceptively quick Yussef Poulsen will be out wide on the other side.
Even before embarrassing Ireland, Denmark in qualifying showed they were well capable of scoring goals, most notably when they stunned Poland 4-0 in Copenhagen. However, ten of the 25 goals they scored throughout the entire campaign were scored by Eriksen. There is a worry that they may be over-reliant on the Spurs star. A testament to this is the fact that the Danes drew 0-0 in a recent friendly against neighbours Sweden when they were without the services of their main man.
Perhaps the key game in deciding who joins France in the knockout stages will be when Denmark play their first game against Peru in Saransk. The Peruvians may appear just happy to be there as shown by the celebrations after they qualified for the first time since 1982. Such was the euphoria; a public holiday was also declared to mark the occasion. However, any team who emerges from the grueling South American qualifying group deserves respect.
One man who will be especially happy to be joining his Peru teammates in Russia is target man Pablo Guerrero. The striker was vital for his country in qualifying, but it looked as if he was going to miss out when he tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine in a drugs test. Guerrero claimed that the stimulant was in his system because he drank coca tea, and after an arduous appeals process, which involved Incan mummies and each of the other group C teams captains, writing a letter in support, Guerrero was finally cleared to play on 31st of May. The Flamengo striker’s hold up play will be vital if they are to advance.
They were also the beneficiaries of some fortune during their qualifying after they picked up an automatic 3-0 win against Bolivia due to the Bolivians fielding an ineligible player. This was in a game that the Peruvians had lost 2-0. Regardless of this good luck, Peru still have a few highly effective players who will be lining out in their iconic white kit with a red sash. The veteran Jefferson Farfan has come off the back of a league title-winning season with Lokomotiv Moscow. Since he is a fan favourite at Lokomotiv, he should feel at home in Russia over the coming weeks.
The final team in group C is Australia, and the Socceroos have endured quite the journey just to qualify playing a record 22 games. The Asian champions failed to qualify automatically and needed extra time to scrape past surprise package Syria which secured an intercontinental playoff berth against Honduras. Captain Mile Jedinak’s hat trick was enough in this playoff to ensure a 3-1 victory.
Ange Postecoglou was in charge during the qualification campaign, but he has since been replaced by former Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk who left Saudi Arabia to take the job. Anyone who remembers Van Marwijk’s 2010 Netherlands side that finished runners-up will know that he favours a pragmatic style of football. Keeping clean sheets will be of paramount importance if Australia are to pick up any points. The midfield partnership of Aston Villa Jedinak and Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy will provide the heartbeat of a side that also features Matt Ryan of Brighton in goals.
Looking at how group C will shake out; the safe money would be on France comfortably finishing first and Australia being rooted to the bottom of the table. This leaves Denmark and Peru to battle it out for that coveted second place and the key game will be in the first matchday when they play each other. The two nations have been friendly to one another in the build-up but expect that to all change this Saturday in Saransk.