Group C preview: Peru can surprise France

(Photo by Sebastian Castaneda/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sebastian Castaneda/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

France, Peru, Australia and Denmark will compete in Group C at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Here’s what to expect from each side.

On paper, there’s a clear favorite in Group C. When the draw was released, analysts were quick to focus on the French side’s good fortune. But if 21st-century history is any indication, the French are either (a) going to make a deep run in the tournament through at least the quarterfinals or (b) bomb out with a whimper.

They get to play against a trio of middleweights and lightweights on the international level. Only one of the three actually made it to Brazil four years ago, and that squad are the least likely to make it through to the knockout stage. But that was also the case in 2002 and 2010, when France failed to move on against ostensibly inferior competition.

Which France will show up this year in Russia? Will they live up to their title as one of the bookmakers’ favorites to hoist the World Cup trophy? Or will they fall prey to sides with less pure talent but a more cohesive team framework?

Two teams that missed out four years ago and a relative global minnow are all that stand between the French and the round of 16. But that means little in the chaos that can overtake a short-span tournament like the World Cup. Here’s what to expect from Group C.

(Photo by Jason Heidrich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Heidrich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /


Australia have reached each of the past three World Cups, something neither Denmark nor Peru can boast. After qualifying for the group stage in 2006 out of Oceania, the Socceroos switched to join the Asian Football Confederation. The expanded number of opportunities to qualify has kept Australia in the World Cup ever since.

That hasn’t, however, translated into improvement on the big stage. The Guus Hiddink-led squad of 2006 went 7-1-1 in qualifying, scoring 31 goals and conceding just five. Once in Germany, the Socceroos made it to the round of 16 ahead of Croatia and Japan as the Group F runners-up in an unbalanced group won by Brazil. They went 1-1-1 in the group stage four years later, but couldn’t get through.

The 2014 team that went to Brazil fell apart, losing all three of their matches before trudging back across the Pacific. Do they have any chance of surprising this year?

Key player: Tim Cahill

Maybe it will all come down to the team’s weathered but prolific leader. Tim Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading goalscorer, returns for one final ride at 38 years old. Released by Millwall at the end of the season, Cahill will hope to help engineer a Cinderella story with his last chance on the world stage.

The former Everton and New York Red Bulls striker led Australia in scoring at the World Cup in both 2006 and 2014. He’ll need a late-career renaissance for Australia to have a chance.

Biggest question: Can they steal a point?

Australia are here mainly because they moved over to the AFC instead of remaining in Oceania qualifying. Finishing third out of six teams in their third-round group, the Socceroos had to play a home-and-away series against Syria to see which advanced to the inter-confederation playoff.

Had they remained in Oceania and made the other inter-confederation playoff, Australia would have had to play Peru. Instead, they played Honduras and had a much better chance of advancing. After going winless and without a point in 2014, scoring just three goals against nine allowed, Australia were drawn into a tough group for the World Cup. Getting even one point could be a challenge.

(Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /


Denmark are back in the World Cup after missing the tournament in 2014. It marks the fourth time since 1998 the Danes have qualified for the group stage. They waited until the second leg of their qualifying playoff against Ireland, but a 5-1 demolition sent Denmark through for another trip to the big show.

Now they’re headed to Russia, Denmark will try to reach the knockout stage for the fourth time in five appearances at the World Cup. Since the new year, though, the Danish side have won just once in four friendlies. That 1-0 victory against Panama came in the middle of a run that included losses to Sweden and Jordan and a scoreless draw against Chile.

So can Denmark actually reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2002? Or will the recent run of poor form translate into an early departure from Russia?

Key player: Christian Eriksen

At the front end of his prime, 26-year-old midfielder Christian Eriksen is Denmark’s most talented player. The Tottenham star was named to the Premier League team of the year after a strong season in England. He scored 11 goals in World Cup qualification to get the Danes to Russia. Rumored to be fancied by Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, Eriksen could raise further interest with a strong campaign in Russia.

Biggest question: Where will the goals come from (besides Eriksen)?

In qualifying, Eriksen’s 11 goals added up to more than half of Denmark’s total. Without the attacking midfielder’s timely contributions, the Danes would be watching this year’s tournament from home. But to qualify for the knockout stage, they’ll need someone else to contribute goals as well.

Kasper Dolberg, Ajax’s 20-year-old forward, will be hoping to make his mark on the global stage, but has played only four times for the national team. Nicolai Jorgensen and Andreas Cornelius, who scored twice each, are the only forwards in the squad who scored more than once in qualifying.

(Photo by Frederic Stevens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Frederic Stevens/Getty Images) /


Two years ago, France were the losing finalist at Euro 2016 on home soil. After taking down defending World Cup champions Germany in the semifinals, Les Bleus lost in extra time to Portugal on a 109th-minute Eder goal at the Stade de France. It was a disappointing miss on home soil.

France have been building momentum leading up to this summer. Prior to their final two pre-tournament friendlies against Italy and the United States, the French won seven of their past 10 matches and secured a pair of draws. The only loss was a stumble against Colombia in March where France coughed up a two-goal lead and gave up a late penalty to fall 3-2.

Four years ago, the French made it to the quarterfinals. But they have also missed the knockout stage in two of the past four World Cups. How will this year turn out?

Key player: Antoine Griezmann

France are fine defensively, having allowed just six goals in qualifying to finish ahead of Sweden and the Netherlands. In the past five World Cups dating back to the 1998 championship, they’ve never allowed more the four goals per tournament. Scoring has sometimes come at a premium, though. For the French to avoid missing the knockout stage for the third time in five chances, they’ll need someone to step up and score.

There’s no better candidate than Antoine Griezmann. He’s averaged 20 goals per season in La Liga over the past four years with Atletico Madrid. In qualifying, he tied Olivier Giroud for the team lead with four goals. He’ll need to get hot for France to avoid an early exit, but that will require him to find the right spot in the lineup. That all comes down to tactics.

Biggest Question: What to do with all that talent?

By all measures, France should have little trouble making it to the round of 16. They are, without a doubt, one of the most talented teams in the tournament. Then again, the same was true in 2002 and 2010, when the French last missed the knockout stage. In both of those tournaments, France’s attack went ice-cold. That could happen again if Didier Deschamps fails to utilize his talent correctly.

For a national team like France, determining the “best” starting lineup is always going to be subjective. The fact the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial missed the squad is an illustration of the talent at Deschamps’ disposal. Some expensive players will be on the bench, and managing egos and finding the right blend of talent will be critical to stave off a fall.

(Photo by Sebastian Castaneda/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sebastian Castaneda/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /


For the first time since 1982, Peru will play at the World Cup. The 36-year absence has left an entire generation of Peruvians without the chance to see Los Incas participate on the globe’s biggest stage. The country has rallied around the rare opportunity, and they have plenty of cause for excitement.

Qualification came thanks to an 18-month unbeaten run that culminated in a 2-0 victory in a qualifying playoff against New Zealand. Entering the World Cup, Peru haven’t lost a match since November 2016. Since that 2-0 defeat to Brazil, La Blanquirroja have reeled off 10 wins and three draws.

Nobody else in Group C can boast such a record of consistent excellence heading into this year’s tournament.

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Key player: Paolo Guerrero

Not everything has been great for Peru during their hot streak. After testing positive for cocaine in October, Peru’s 34-year-old captain Paolo Guerrero seemed set to miss the World Cup. After FIFA halved the ban to six months, Guerrero was poised to join his team in Russia.

Then, right as the suspension was coming to a conclusion, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport extended beyond its original length to 14 months. On the last day of May, mere weeks from the start of the World Cup, a Swiss tribunal ruled the expanded suspension was unjustified and provisionally lifted the ban. Guerrero will be with the team in Russia as a result.

Biggest Question: Will Guerrero’s return disrupt the hot streak?

In a vacuum, the addition of the all-time leading goalscorer in national team history would be a boon. But even after Guerrero was sidelined, Peru continued on a hot streak rivaled by few other teams participating this summer. That includes four straight victories since Guerrero was provisionally suspended. His departure galvanized the team.

But will his return be the last piece to push Peru to new heights, or a distraction that will derail a well-oiled machine? The assumption here is that Guerrero is just the reinforcement needed to boost Peru beyond just being happy to return to the World Cup.

Prediction: 1. Peru 2. France 3. Denmark 4. Australia