Qualified Top of European Group A, above Sweden, to whom they lost the away game. Also drew 0-0 with Luxembourg, but those were the hiccups. Netherlands were consigned to third place in the pool. Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud contributed four goals each.
Manager Didier Deschamps. The diminutive former midfielder is chasing that rare distinction, of becoming both coach and captain of a World Cup winning team. Franz Beckenbauer managed it with West Germany in 1974 – as player – and in 1990, as manager. Deschamps was the skipper of France when they won their only World Cup in 1998, on home soil. Since taking over Les Bleus after managing Monaco, Juventus and Marseille, his trajectory is upwards: A quarter-final at Brazil 2014, a final at Euro 2016, where France were defeated in Paris by Portugal.
Player to Watch Kylian Mbappe. The most expensive teenager in history, by a distance, goes to the World Cup as a potential superstar, barely 18 months since he was a mere substitute for Monaco. His impact there, driving the club to Ligue 1 title, to a Uefa Champions League semi-final, followed by his move to Paris Saint-Germain – to be made permanent this summer – puts him in the spotlight. France need to make best use of his strength, pace and skill with a moving ball.
Talking Point Finding the right place for Paul. The lavishly gifted Paul Pogba has had a troubling season in many respects, and being Paul Pogba, his issues have not passed incognito. The conditions for his optimum performance level have been analysed, sometimes sternly, by Jose Mourinho, his Manchester United manager, and there has been criticism of his defensive work-rate, his ability to consistently impact on matches. Pogba used to be labelled a "complete midfielder". More and more it looks like he needs completer midfielders around him to get the best from him.
Prediction With their abundance of highly talented and potent attacking players, France should go far, and they can provide some of the tournament’s most exhilarating football. They have youthful zest, in the likes of Mbappe and Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele, they have the brilliant Antoine Griezmann to lead the attack, and alternative Plan B options such as the reliably efficient Olivier Giroud. There is balance, too, in the likes of N'Golo Kante. A semi-final should be the minimum expectation.
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Qualified Via a play-off against New Zealand, the Oceania champions, with the South Americans handling the crossing of many time zones better than the Kiwis to draw away and win 2-0 in Lima. Peru had finished fifth in South America, just ahead of continental champions Chile, to reach their play-off.
Manager Ricardo Gareca. The Argentine has a famous place in World Cup history. It was he, a striker who represented both Boca Juniors and River Plate and partnered Diego Maradona in his country’s attack, who scored a fabled goal, against Peru that qualified Argentina for the 1986 World Cup finals in the last match of the group phase. His country went on to win that tournament. A shrewd tactician, he has guided Peru to their first finals since 1982.
Player to Watch Jefferson Farfan. Farfan would certainly have a century of caps for his country had he not missed out on a long period because of a disciplinary suspension that led to a stand-off between the winger and his federation. The forward, first selected more than 15 years ago, will be a touchstone for a team with much young talent, and a source of invention and goals. Still quick, at 33, he knows Russia, too. The former Al Jazira man has been with Lokomotiv Moscow since leaving the UAE in 2016.
Talking Point Peru’s joy and pride at reaching a first World Cup for 46 years has been tempered somewhat by the long, sapping issue of captain Paolo Guerrero’s availability. To recap: Guerrero, his country’s leading goalscorer of all time – 34 from 87 caps – last year tested positive for a banned substance, which he said he mistakenly ingested through contaminated tea. Cue a saga in which the ban was reduced, then increased again, via appeal and counter-appeal, left him and Peru on tenterhooks over his World Cup participation. He will be in Russia, he finally learned in late May, but the episode has been disruptive and draining.
Prediction Peru will sense that, behind France, there is a place in the second round for any of the other teams in Group C to aim for, and emboldened by the way they stuck at it in a tight Conmebol qualifying joust, they have as a good a chance as any of the trio. They blend youth and experience and certainly possess the technique to make a good impression. They can edge a place in the last 16, but probably not beyond.
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Qualified By beating - no, make that thrashing - Republic of Ireland in a play-off. The Danes had finished second to Poland in their group and then drew 0-0 in Copenhagen with the Irish in the first leg. They went behind in Dublin early, but then blitzed their opponents, 5-1, Christian Eriksen scoring a hat-trick.
Manager Age Hareide. The former Norway international became Denmark’s first newly-appointed manager of the new millennium in 2015. His predecessor, Morten Olsen, had been in the seat for remarkable 15 years. And Olsen had captained Denmark, with distinction, in the 1980s. Hareide came in with strong pedigree in Scandinavian club football, and he is credited with getting the best out of the country’s one world-class star, Tottenham Hotspur’s Eriksen.
Player to Watch Simon Kjaer. The 29-year-old central defender has played his club football in Italy, Germany, France, Turkey and Spain, a catalogue of experiences and frequent moves that tell the story of a precocious rise, from the much-admired teenager that he once was, through some ups and downs in his 20s. As Kjaer approaches 30, he has ironed out some of the rough edges and indecisions in his game to become a totem for his national team, authoritative in his marking, but also a fine distributor of the ball over long range.
Talking Point Like father, like son? Kasper Schmeichel admits that at times in his career, being the son of a legend has been a burden. His goalkeeping father Peter is Denmark’s most capped footballer, and for much of Kasper’s goalkeeping life, his achievements paled in comparison with dad’s. But when the younger Schmeichel, who had played much of his football in England’s lower divisions, won the Premier League title with Leicester City in 2016, he at last had the same prestigious medal as Peter won frequently with Manchester United. Now he will match his father by being Denmark’s No 1 at a World Cup, 20 years later.
Prediction If Denmark are to pierce the knockout round, they almost certainly need Eriksen at peak power, and as Eriksen, a teenaged substitute the last time the Danes went to a World Cup, in 2010, graces the game’s biggest stage, he must bear pressure on him to eke out space and exert the same influence he does on the Premier League. He will be up against some rugged markers. Getting out of the group looks a tough ask.
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Qualified Via two play-offs after finished third in their final Asian group, behind Japan and Saudi Arabia. That meant a home-and-away decider against Syria and then a long-haul play-off against Honduras. With plenty of air-miles banked, Australia made it to their fourth successive World Cup.
Manager Bert van Marwijk. The Dutchman, appointed on a short-term basis in January after Ange Postecoglu had quit, actually led Saudi Arabia to qualification for this World Cup. But he knows the ins and outs of this tournament for far better reasons than that. Van Marwijk guided his native Holland to the final in 2010, an achievement which drew applause for the focus he applied, though attracted criticism for the style of football his Dutch team adopted.
Player to Watch Aaron Mooy. Mooy provides industry and intelligence to any midfield, and he has been a galvaniser of Huddersfield Town’s rise to, and consolidation as, a Premier League entity in English football. Mooy has had to work his way up through the sport, and will relish his first World Cup as much as he relished his club’s promotion to England’s top tier this time last year. Australia need his supply-line to their forward players to work smoothly.
Talking Point Tim Cahill, 38 years old and without a goal in any form of club football this season, and without a club employer right now, is going to his fourth World Cup. He is an Australian hero, has been a matchwinner for the Socceroos on countless occasions in the past, fiercely determined, inspiring. But is that enough, with age not on his side? Some Australians wonder if nostalgia has informed his selection for Russia.
Prediction Reaching this World Cup proved a long, gruelling task for the Australians, what with a double round of play-offs, and much managerial too-ing and fro-ing. They have a kinder looking group than they did in 2014, when Chile, Holland and Spain were in the way of progress, but the likelihood is that France will prove a class apart in their opening match, and Peru and Denmark both look to have more finesse than the Socceroos can call on. Home after three matches.
Group C Overview
There is much to intrigue in Group C, notably how France blend the wonderful array of young attacking talent they have at their disposal. Expectations are high for the last European championship runners-up and, with the French wanting a strong start, Australia have plenty to fear on Day 1. Peru, thrilled to be back at the main event after nearly half a century away, have the wherewithal to emerge as the next-best, although any side with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings can conjure up two wins out of three. Atmospheres in most these games should be lively. Denmark’s fans are a boisterous lot, as are Australia’s, while Peru’s supporters will appreciate the event for its rarity.