A World Cup preview, with predictions for Group C, which features France, Peru, Denmark and Australia, and opens play on Saturday with France vs. Australia and Peru vs. Denmark.
Predicted order of finish: France, Peru, Denmark, Australia
If France follows the pattern of its recent World Cup appearances, Les Bleus will leave Russia gravely disappointed amid soaring expectations. Consider: They were champions in 1998, flopped in the group stage four years later, reached the final in 2006, bombed the next time around and reached the quarterfinals in 2014.
It's hard to see the French going home early this summer, given the wealth of vibrant attackers and pillars of European club soccer in the lineup. Many observers see them as genuine title contenders -- but only if they perform in harmony and avoid the selfish trappings that sunk past World Cup squads.
Three of the five most expensive club transfers in history involved current French players: Kylian Mbappe (Monaco to Paris Saint-German for $168 million), Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona, $122 million) and Paul Pogba (Juventus to Manchester United, $122 million). The squad also features hardened goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur) and veteran scorers Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) and Olivier Giroud (Chelsea).
The defense, however, is suspect, and Didier Deschamps, a member of the 1998 championship team who has coached the squad for six years, must keep this group on the same page.
Although they are clear group favorites, Les Bleus will not have an easy time. Denmark showed its fortitude in the qualifying playoffs by rolling to a 5-1 victory at Ireland after a disappointing 0-0 home draw.
Danish plans flow through Christen Eriksen, a world-class midfielder from Tottenham Hotspur who can alter a match as a facilitator or finisher. Nikolai Jorgesen will provide front-line firepower, but a groin injury kept Nikolas Bendtner off the roster.
Peru is making its first appearance since 1982, an astounding drought considering its prosperity at the continental championship, Copa America (semifinals in 1997, 2011 and '15). Credit goes to its Argentine coach, Ricardo Gareca, who, after a rocky start to qualifying, oversaw eight matches without a defeat, including a playoff triumph against New Zealand.
Peruvian hopes are rising with the reinstatement of captain Paolo Guerrero, the program's career scoring leader, who had been suspended for failing a drug test.
Australia, making its fourth consecutive appearance, will have a hard time earning any points after laboring in Asian qualifying and needing a playoff against Honduras to earn a place. Dutchman Bert van Marwijk is in charge after guiding Saudi Arabia to a World Cup berth.
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