Teams

Australia, Denmark, France, Peru


Qualification

The French dominated a potentially tricky UEFA qualifying group and lost just once as they finished ahead of Sweden and the Netherlands, with the latter missing out on a second consecutive major tournament. They qualified four points ahead of the Scandinavians with impressive attacking and defensive records.

Denmark reached Russia the tricky way after finishing second in a competitive Group E. Their success was built on a strong defence that conceded eight times in 10 matches, but they finished five points behind Poland and beat the Republic of Ireland 5-1 on aggregate in the play-offs.

Australia secured promotion to their fourth consecutive World Cup after finishing third in Group B during the third round of qualifiers – this was behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, who advanced to Russia automatically – which resulted in a play-off against Syria. They narrowly won 3-2 on aggregate after extra-time.

Peru will be playing at their first World Cup since 1982 after finishing fifth in the CONMEBOL standings and surprisingly knocking out Chile. The South Americans beat New Zealand in the inter-confederation play-off.



Previous World Cups

Peru’s best performance came at the 1970 finals as they reached the quarter-finals, while they also advanced to the second round eight years later. France are the complete opposite having won the trophy in their home 1998 tournament and reached the final in 2006. A quarter-final exit in 2014 was a disappointment given the quality of their squad.

Australia did not qualify between 1974 and 2002 but have reached each of the World Cup finals since 2006 where they recorded their best ever finish by reaching the last-16.

Denmark reached the last-eight in 1998 and have been to the last-16 in two other tournaments with a 2010 group stage exit their worst showing.

Managers

Didier Deschamps is leading Les Bleus into his third major tournament as coach and his record so far has been good, with a quarter-finals exit in 2014 and a place in the final of their home Euro 2016 competition.

Ricardo Gareca has worked wonders for Peru, with the Argentinian taking charge in 2015 and leading them to a surprise last-four finish in the Copa America, and the quarter-finals a year later.

64-year-old Norwegian Åge Hareide has coached Denmark since 2016 and securing his team’s place in Russia was an impressive achievement. He coached his home country between 2003 and 2008.

Bert van Marwijk is highly experienced with Borussia Dortmund and the Netherlands among his roles. The latter included reaching the 2010 World Cup final, but a disappointing Euro 2012 group stage exit saw him leave his position. The Dutchman also led Saudi Arabia to the 2018 World Cup before failing to agree a new deal; he will leave his job with the Socceroos after Russia and be replaced by Aussie Graham Arnold.



Squads

Didier Deschamps and striker Karim Benzema have well-known and very public issues with each other, so it was not a surprise to see the Real Madrid omitted from the 23-man squad. Regardless, Les Blues have a multi-talented group of players to choose from and they should reach the latter stages.

Australia have named veteran Tim Cahill after his part in qualification – the Millwall man has 50 goals in 105 caps. With just three players picked from Australian clubs, the Socceroos certainly have the potential to be tricky opponents.

There was no room for Martin Odegaard, with the 19-year-old failing to impress at SC Heerenveen on loan from Real Madrid. Star men for Denmark, however, include Kasper Schmeichel and Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen. Forward Nicklas Bendtner has left the squad due to injury.

Peru forward and talisman Jefferson Farfán heads to Russia with his country following a productive season with Lokomotic Moscow in which he scored 14 goals. Captain Paolo Guerrero has been cleared to play despite a drugs ban.


Prediction

A win for France in their opener against Australia would set them up nicely to advance to the knockout stage, though anything but complete professionalism from the Group C favourites could see them slip up against any of their three opponents. Peru and Denmark are likely to be battling it out for second place.