Part 2 of my look at the World Cup draw takes on Group’s C & D with contrasting fortunes for Argentina and France.
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Didier Deschamps couldn’t have handpicked a better group for France than this one. France have more quality attacking players than any side in this tournament with Kylian M’bappe & Ousmane Dembele now added to an already impressive cast. Defensively Raphael Varane is now back having missed Euro 2016 and the smart money must be on Antoine Griezmann picking up the Golden Shoe in Russia.
In their way stand 3 teams who all required last-ditch play-off wins to qualify. The only team that could beat France in the group stages are France. By which I mean the French don’t do average tournaments, of the last 10 they’ve made 4 finals (winning 2) but went out in the group stages 3 times- the low point coming with the shameful players strike in South Africa, their tendancy to self destruct remains a worry for Deschamps.
Thus far this campaign has been free of any controversy or discord but Deschamps struggled at Euro 2016 to find the best fit for his multi talented side with Paul Pogba struggling to find his best form- Deschamps will need to do better in Russia, not that he should need to in the group phase.
With France heavy favourites to win the group this should be a close contest for second place. France start agains the Socceroos, who’ve shown by winning the Asia Cup they’re an improving force. Despite that they are lacking in star names with Kewell, Viduka & Schwarzer long gone. Tim Cahill’s still around aged 38 and Aaron Mooy is having an excellent season in the Premier League and they gave plenty in the last World Cup despite being drawing the toughest of tough groups, avoidoing a drubbing by the French in their opener will be key if they are to seriously challenge for second place.
Peru meanwhile came through at the expense of Chile and will be competing in their first finals since 1982. They’re highly reliant on veteran forward Jefferson Farfan for goals and given he plays for Lokomtiv Moscow should know what to expect in Russia but they don’t concede many and will fancy their chances of making the knockout phase.
Finally there’s Denmark who hit a strong run of form this autumn by smashing first Poland 3-0 and then Ireland 5-1 en route to the finals. Christian Eriksen will inevitably be their dangerman but this young Danish side has the potential for a decent run in Russia with its stingy defence and talented young forwards, plus Nicklas Bendtner!
Must watch game: Denmark vs Peru June 16th 5pm- France will probably dominate this group making this match a must win for both sides on the opening weekend.
Prediction: 1st France, 2nd Denmark, 3rd Peru, 4th Australia
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
This time D really is for Death a this group looks far and away the toughest with all 4 teams holding realistic expectations of a deep run in the tournament.
There’s always a major casualty in the group phase and I can see it being Argentina this time around. They were shocking in qualification and needed the magic of their main man to secure their passage to the finals. Of course that guy is pretty special but Messi can’t win the World Cup alone and the supporting cast is surprisingly weak particularly in defence where they are reliant on Sergio Romero of Manchester United reserves and 33 year old Javier Mascherano. The midfield isn’t much better although they do have some options in attack- Sergio Aguero, Mauro Icardi, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria but can they all play around Messi?
Iceland continue to amaze showing their win over England was no fluke by making it to their first World Cup as winners of a qualifying group that included Croatia (who they’ll meet again in the finals) & Ukraine. Gylfi Sigurdsson is the key man and is having an underwhelming club season with Everton but this is a team far more impressive than the sum of its parts and their counter attacking style is well suited to a group packed with forward heavy teams.
Which leads us nicely onto Croatia, in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic they have a pair of midfield playmakers any team in the world would want and a top class winger in Ivan Perisic. In strikers Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic they have forwards who can finish the chances, this sides quality in possession is without question. But they do ship goals- unsurprising given they will be starting Dejan Lovren in defence and they will need to tighten up to suceed next summer.
Finally there’s the Super Eagles of Nigeria. They have an uncanny knack of drawing Agrentina- this being the 5th time in the last 7 World Cups but Nigeria will fancy their chances this time around. They have the best balanced side in the group lead by John Obi Mikel who has consistently proved a better player for country than club. Kelechi Iheanacho may be having a quiet season at Leicester but he is a proven goalscorer at international level and last month they defeated Argentina 4-2 having been 2 goals down in a friendly in Russia.
This group provides everything- great individuals, great attacking sides, leaky defences and plucky underdogs, any of them could win the group but any could tank, it’ll be fasicnating to watch.
Must watch games: Iceland vs Argentina June 16th 2pm & Nigeria vs Croatia 8pm- All the games in this group promise to be great but these two openers mean you shouldn’t agree to a barbecue on June 16th.
Prediction: 1st Croatia, 2nd Nigeria, 3rd Argentina, 4th Iceland
Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)