The last two World Cups weren’t exactly memorable for the reigning champions. Both the cupwinners were knocked out in the preliminary league stage — Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018. A similar fate is unlikely to befall France.
France has been hit by injuries, yes — two of its key men in the midfield won’t be on the plane to Doha. Still, it shouldn’t be difficult for the defending champion to progress from a group in which it has only one really strong team to worry about. That team, Denmark, has actually troubled it quite a bit over the past few months.
It was only a couple of months back that the Danes defeated France 20 at the UEFA Nations League in Copenhagen. When the two teams faced off in June in Paris, Denmark again won 21.
The Danes may not mind making it a hattrick of upsets when the two European sides meet in Doha on November 26. That clash could very well determine the group winner. With France and Denmark expected to progress to the round of 16, the other two teams — Tunisia and Australia — are clearly the lower weights in the pool, but both will be keen to punch above their weight.
Didier Deschamps was one of the best defensive midfielders of his time. The defence he is worried about most at the moment must be of the World Cup, which he won as France’s coach in Moscow four years ago. Remarkably, he was the captain when France won its first World Cup in 1998.
France at the World Cup (FIFA Rank: 4)
The French team received a couple of setbacks, as midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante have been ruled out of the World Cup because of injuries. That might be a bit of a concern for Deschamps, but he should be confident of his side’s depth.
He would feel even better when he thinks of his attack, which must be among the most feared in Qatar — the young Kylian Mbappe and the seasoned Karim Benzema could be nightmares for any defence. Mbappe was the best young player at the last World Cup, in which he was also the second highestscorer. Benzema, who wasn’t in Moscow as he had been suspended from the national team since 2015 following the blackmail scandal, arrives in Qatar still basking in the glory of the Ballon d’Or.
Not to forget, the team also has Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele. For France, the offence could well be the key to a successful World Cup defence.
Full France Squad
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Australia’s exit in the league stage of cricket’s T20 World Cup — that too at home — may have been a shock, but if its football team progresses from the preliminary league in Qatar, it could be an even bigger surprise. In a pool that houses the reigning champion France and the formidable Denmark, the Aussies will have to play much better than their worldranking of 38.
Australia at the World Cup (FIFA Rank: 38)
The team played 20 matches over 1008 days to finally qualify after beating Peru in the intercontinental playoff.
Manager Graham Arnold must be desperately hoping that the team’s best player Ajdin Hrustic, who can be dangerous with his passes as well as freekicks, recovers fully from his ankle injury. Also, there have been concerns about the fitness of Martin Boyle, the Scottishborn winger who has to spearhead the attack.
The Socceroos may not have superstars but in players like goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, defender Aziz Behich, midfielder Aaron Mooy and striker Awer Mabil, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, there is quality, nevertheless
Full Australia Squad
No team debuted at the World Cup like the way Denmark did. In 1986, the Danes won all their three matches in the group stage; notably they trounced Uruguay 61 and beat West Germany 20.
Denmark at the World Cup (FIFA Rank: 10)
They, however, were knocked out in the round of 16 by Spain. Twelve years later, they reached the quarterfinals and that remains their best performance in the tournament. In Qatar, they must be hoping to go even farther.
The way they qualified for the World Cup — nine wins from 10 games — and have played this year — they twice stunned World champion France — should give them a lot of confidence. And if they need inspiration, they need just to look at their midfielder Christian Eriksen, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the field during EURO 2020. He has since authored one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history and his playmaking skills could be vital to Denmark’s campaign in Qatar.
The team’s strength is its solid defence, featuring the likes of skipper Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen. And behind them standing at the goal will be the redoubtable Kasper Schmeichel.
Full Denmark squad
Tunisia has played in five World Cups but never has its campaign progressed beyond the league phase. The grouping suggests a change in the African nation’s fortunes is extremely unlikely.
Tunisia at the World Cup (FIFA Rank: 30)
It had a relatively easy passage to Qatar — its opponents were Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, Zambia and Mali. And it was thanks to an own goal from Mali that Tunisia qualified (no other goal was scored in either leg).
Tunisia will, no doubt, be up against much stronger sides than those it came across in the qualifiers, though it may fancy its chances against Australia. Tunisia, however, has some fine players in the lineup, including Wahbi Khazri, captain Youssef Msakni, Ellyes Skhiri and Seifeddine Jaziri, who should be happy to return to the country where he was the topscorer at last year’s Arab Cup.
Kadri might use a lessadventurous 451 formation to nullify the threats of France and Denmark while going for the offensive against
Full Tunisia squad
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