World Cup Group C: Australia likely to have sinking feeling after tough opener against France
Andrew Atherley looks at the group featuring France, Denmark, Peru and Australia...
"Australia could be on the back foot immediately if they lose to France in the opening game."
Back Australia to finish bottom of Group C at [1.85]
France are hot favourites for Group C, which pits them against three rivals who qualified only through the playoffs. It might not be straightforward for Les Bleus, however, as Peru and Denmark are also in the world's top 12 on Fifa rankings, which makes this one of the toughest groups on paper. Australia, ranked 40th, make up the quartet .
France are fourth favourites for the tournament at  and winning the group might be important in keeping them apart from Argentina, the likely Group D winners, in the first knockout round. They have the advantage of facing Australia first, which gives them the best possible chance of taking three points and control of the group.
Peru v Denmark in the other opening match could go a long way to deciding the other qualifier (assuming France don't mess up) and Denmark might have the edge given their European advantage and the greater experience of players like Christian Eriksen.
Denmark, in fact, might be decent value at [5.5] to win the group, given that it could be tighter than expected and goal difference might come into play.
The best bet at this stage is Australia to finish bottom at [1.85], which looks a big price for a team that might struggle to score.
Les Bleus have performed well on their last three appearances when the finals have been in Europe - fourth in 1982, winners on home soil in 1998 and runners-up in 2006 - and hopes are high again.
Didier Deschamps' squad has a 'golden generation' feel, with Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé leading an exciting attack. Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante are in midfield, with Raphael Varane of Real Madrid and Barcelona's Lucas Digne and Samuel Umtiti at the back and Hugo Lloris of Tottenham in goal.
A sign of their strength in depth is the amount of talent Deschamps has been able to leave out of his squad, including Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Moussa Dembele.
The sense of a team on the verge of something special was heightened when France were runners-up as hosts at Euro 2016, although it was disappointing to see them snuffed out by Portugal in the final after appearing to come to the boil through the knockout stages.
Their backers will hope that experience stands them in good stead and enables them to go one step further this time, but on the flipside their ultimate failure to win the Euros leaves a question mark over their ability to maintain a high level.
Inconsistency continued to dog them in World Cup qualification when they lost to Sweden and drew with Belarus and Luxembourg, which left top spot in the balance for longer than it should have done, although ultimately they were comfortable enough in finishing four points clear of Sweden.
The biggest question is whether Deschamps - captain of the 1998 World Cup-winning side - will be daring enough to give his attacking players full rein. His preferred system is 4-3-3 but he has tried 4-4-2 with two wingers. Having been in charge since 2012, Deschamps - like his players - must deliver this time.
Having failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, Denmark got in through the back door this time with a playoff victory over Ireland after trailing Poland by five points in their qualifying group. Age Hareide's side finished the qualifying campaign as one of the form teams, however, with six wins and three draws from their last nine competitive fixtures.
Denmark have got out of their group in three of their four appearances at the World Cup finals, although the failure was last time in 2010 and they are not the dangerous side they were in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Hopes are pinned this time on Christian Eriksen, their one top-class player, and they have a decent chance of getting out of the group if the Tottenham star is on top form. He scored eight of Denmark's 20 goals in qualifying plus a hat-trick in their 5-1 playoff win.
Thomas Delaney of Werder Bremen is a box-to-box midfielder who was next-highest scorer in qualifying with four goals, although that points up their lack of a top striker. Nicolai Jorgensen, Andreas Cornelius and Nicklas Bendtner collectively scored just six between them on the road to Russia.
In central defence the preferred partnership is the captain Simon Kjaer of Sevilla and Brentford's Andreas Bjelland, with Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel behind them.
The key match is the opener against Peru, where victory would set them up well for the second game against Australia while Peru would have to head off to face France while playing catch-up.
If they won their first two games, which is a feasible scenario, Hareide's side might have a free hit against France in what could be a group decider in their final match. Given that scenario, the Danes could be a sporting bet at [5.5] to top the group.
Famous for beating Scotland and notorious for losing 6-0 to Argentina at the 1978 World Cup, Peru are back at the finals for the first time in 36 years. That 1982 tournament in Spain was their only appearance in a finals in Europe and they failed to win, drawing twice before losing 5-1 to Poland.
They reached Russia via a playoff win over New Zealand, having finished fifth in qualifying. Their position in the standings was helped by the awarding of results against Bolivia due to an eligibility infringement and a sign that they might struggle at this level is that they won only one out of eight against the top four in South America and failed to score in five of those matches.
On the plus side they were building some momentum in the second half of their qualifying campaign and their young players may be open to more improvement. That group includes winger Edison Flores, the joint top scorer in qualifying with five goals, holding midfielder Renato Tapia and playmaker Christian Cueva, who wears No.10.
Paolo Guerrero - who missed the playoff owing to a doping ban but has been cleared for the World Cup - was the other joint top scorer in qualifying and is set to lead the attack alongside Andre Carrillo, who spent last season on loan at Watford from Benfica. The experienced Jefferson Farfán, like Guerrero well into his 30s, is another option up front.
The defenders all come from clubs in South America or Mexico and have been well drilled by coach Ricardo Gareca, with just three goals conceded in their last six competitive games.
The Socceroos arrive in Russia in a state of flux following the departure of coach Ange Postecoglou after the qualifying campaign and the appointment of Bert van Marwijk, who guided the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010. Postecoglou controversially switched to a 3-2-4-1 system during qualifying and how they will line up is still open to debate.
British fans will recognise some of their key midfielders, including Aaron Mooy of Huddersfield Town, Celtic's Tom Rogic and Mile Jedinak of Aston Villa. But many of their players are in minor European leagues or based back home, and they are short of top attacking talent in particular.
Australia will be aiming to replicate their best World Cup performance, which came in 2006 when the finals were last held in Europe. On that occasion they were drawn in Brazil's group and finished runners-up, ousting Croatia and Japan.
This is their fourth finals appearance in a row but in 2014, under Postecoglou, they lost all three group games and they face a tough task to avoid a similar fate this year.
There were promising signs in last summer's Confederations Cup - the warm-up tournament for these finals, featuring eight teams. Australia lost 3-2 to Germany and then drew 1-1 with both Colombia and Chile. Considering Germany and Chile ended up in the final, it was a good showing by Australia.
Nevertheless, there are doubts about whether they can repeat those scoring exploits, given their overall record and low shots figures, and they could be on the back foot immediately if they lose to France in the opening game.
Back Australia to finish bottom of Group C at [1.85]