Having drifted out of contention in major championships in recent years, Les Bleus head to Russia with a squad boasting perhaps more depth than any other contender. Can they go all the way?
France’s attacking front line possesses so much firepower it is literally impossible to accommodate them all. Mbappé, Dembelé, Giroud and Griezmann form probably the most dangerous array of attacking options of any squad in the tournament. The key to success may involve not only choosing the perfect combination but keeping those who miss out on the starting XI happy.
It’s a similar story in midfield and defense – France have so many world-class players that the pressure is well and truly on coach Didier Deschamps to get his team selections right. To put it bluntly, there can be no excuses.
The brilliant midfield of France is populated by the likes of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté and Blaise Matuidi and when combined with their forward riches present the mouth-watering prospect of goals galore. Certainly that will be the expectation in what shapes as possibly the softest group at this World Cup.
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris
FIFA Ranking: 7
World Cup appearances: 14
World Cup titles: 1 – 1998
The South Americans are celebrating two comebacks this year. The squad returns to the World Cup after a 36-year absence but, most notably, they have done so by returning to the essence of their style: short passing, organization and technicality. This traditional style took Peru to the quarter-finals of both the 1970 and 1978 World Cups.
The man behind the change is Argentinian coach Ricardo Gareca who has adopted the old style but added organizational features to the squad. With Gareca in charge the team has lost just one match in their last 10, lifting their ranking to number 11 in the world.
The key players for Peru are midfielders Yoshimarr Yotun and Renato Tapia and strikers Jefferson Farfán and Paolo Guerrero. However, at time of writing Guerrero was fighting to delay a sanction that could prevent him from taking part in the World Cup and was not included in Gareca’s provisional squad.
Coach: Ricardo Gareca
Captain: Alberto Junior Rodríguez
FIFA Ranking: 11 Odds: $201.00
World Cup appearances: 3
Best World Cup performance: Quarter-finals – 1970
Australia has faced arguably the toughest path to qualifying of any team competing in this year’s World Cup. The long distances the Socceroos had to travel for every away match proved to be a massive physical challenge and may well have played a role in Australia eventually needing a play-off against Syria to book their ticket to Russia, having missed automatic qualification.
This Australian squad is a long way removed from the starstudded side that reached the knock-out stage in 2006 – falling agonizingly short of reaching the quarter finals with a last-minute loss to Italy. However, the one constant is Tim Cahill – at 38 years of age playing in his fourth World Cup and still displaying an incredible ability to make an impact when it matters most. Who could forget his stunning strike against the Netherland in Brazil in 2014?
One more goal and Cahill will join the exclusive club of players to score in four different World Cups alongside Brazil legend Pelé and German duo Miroslav Klose and Uwe Seeler.
Perhaps the greatest unknown for this Australian side will be the input of new coach Bert van Marwijk, who was only hired in January following the sudden resignation of Ange Postecoglou.
Coach: Bert van Marwijk
Captain: Mile Jedinak
FIFA Ranking: 40 Odds: $301.00
World Cup appearances: 4
Best World Cup performance: Round of 16 – 2006
After the gloomy football times Denmark faced when the exceptional Laudrup generation that reached the Euro 2012 finals came to an end, Scandinavian fans are optimistic again. And there is one man responsible for such optimism: Christian Eriksen.
The Tottenham star has been Denmark’s most prolific striker during the qualifiers and finished just behind Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo as top scorer in Europe. Eriksen scored a hat-trick in the play-off game against the Republic of Ireland that booked the side’s ticket to Russia.
Coach Åge Hareide has shaped his squad around Eriksen with the 4-3-3 attack formation fitting perfectly with the style of his star man.
Denmark will likely rotate those around Erikson in the front line, which includes Yussuf Poulsen, Pione Sisto, Nicolai Jørgensen and veteran Nicklas Bendtner. In the midfield, Thomas Delaney will partner with Eriksen to create a lethal connection. Delaney has been overshadowed by the stellar performances of his teammate, but remains a key component of the team.
Coach: Åge Hareide
Captain: Simon Kjær
FIFA Ranking: 12 Odds: $81.00
World Cup appearances: 4
Best World Cup performance: Quarter-finals – 1998