France will have to fend off challenges from Denmark, Australia, and Peru to reach the round of 16 as winners of Group C at the 2018 World Cup.

The 1998 World Cup winners have a squad with talent bursting at the seams and that presents a unique challenge for the manager: how do you pick your best eleven? Going by the evidence, manager Didier Deschamps is not doing a good job of it.

France have quality in all areas of the pitch. Captain Hugo Lloris will be the starting goalkeeper, with the centre-back pairing of Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane in front of him. There is quality off the bench too with youngsters Presnel Kimpembe and Lucas Hernandez, and Arsenal veteran Laurent Koscielny to call upon in central defence.

Benjamin Mendy missed the bulk of the season owing to a long-term injury but he is back just in time for the World Cup and will likely be the preferred left-back ahead of Lucas Digne and the inconsistent Layvin Kurzawa.

The right-back could be a problem area with no clear favourites although Mathieu Debuchy has got himself in the reckoning with a relatively successful second half of the season.

N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba will be fixtures in midfield with Adrien Rabiot, Blaise Matuidi, Thomas Lemar, Corentin Tolisso, Dmitri Payet, Moussa Sissoko, and Nabil Fekir in the reckoning for other midfield slots. Up front, France will have some of the best young forwards in Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, and Kingsley Coman with Antoine Griezmann likely to play off a centre-forward. The striker’s spot could go to one of Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, and Wissam Ben Yedder, with Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema out of favour due to off-field infractions.

Deschamps is often criticised for his failure to figure out the right formation to get the best out of his players, and now with only a few pre-World Cup friendlies left, he has run out of time to experiment and will have to make a decision on what he has seen thus far. It is a crying shame that he couldn’t give a run to the likes of Jordan Amavi, Tanguy Ndomeble and Houssem Aouar who have enjoyed impressive domestic campaigns.

If Deschamps can sort his personnel and formation out, France will be strong contenders to add to their 1998 World Cup.

Christian Eriksen will be the source of creativity in the Denmark midfield. Photo: AP
Christian Eriksen will be the source of creativity in the Denmark midfield. Photo: AP

Denmark have the best squad after France and should be the favourites ahead of Peru and Australia for the knockout qualification. Christian Eriksen is the crown jewel of the Danish midfield, dictating the attack as No. 10 with three of Pione Sisto, Nicolai Jorgensen, Andreas Cornelius, Nicklas Bendtner, and Yussuf Poulsen ahead of him.

William Kvist and Thomas Delaney will shield the defence behind the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, with the latter also capable of scoring goals. Daniel Wass has been out of favour with the national team, and not using him in Russia will be a failure for manager Age Hareide, considering the superb form he has enjoyed at Celta Vigo this term.

The Scandinavian outfit has a serviceable back four in front of the goalkeeper and team captain Kasper Schmeichel, and will be tested against good attacks.

Peru will be appearing at their fifth World Cup and only the first since 1982. There were five teams in contention for two automatic qualification spots and one intercontinental playoff place on the final day of the South American campaign. On a day when permutations changed on several occasions during the course of 90 minutes and five simultaneous games, Peru held on for the playoff spot before finishing the job against New Zealand. This ensured that the famous red sash would be back at the world stage after 36 years.

The Peruvians will not have the strategic advantage of playing in high-altitude stadiums in Russia and a lack of quality in their ranks will make the task of qualification to the knockout stage a difficult one.

Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero, who is eligible for the tournament only because FIFA reduced a drug ban, will be main attacking threats while 26-year-old Christian Cuevas will be pulling the strings from midfield.

Australia will look decrease their reliance on veteran striker Tim Cahill for goals. Photo: AP
Australia will look decrease their reliance on veteran striker Tim Cahill for goals. Photo: AP

Australia were forced into a new managerial appointment after Ange Postecoglu resigned following World Cup qualification and they opted for the pragmatic Bert van Marwijk. With so little time before Russia, the Dutchman will have his task cut out.

Captain Mile Jedinak will have a strong presence in defensive midfield while Celtic’s Tom Rogic will be dictating the attacking moves. Aaron Mooy will be eager to continue his good form at Huddersfield and add an extra attacking threat to decrease reliance on the veteran striker Tim Cahill.

Australia’s best chance of a point will be against Peru but neither of them are expected to upset France and Denmark.

For analysis of the other 2018 FIFA World Cup groups, click here.

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