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World Cup 2018 Group C preview: France ... and then who?

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ coverage of the 2018 World Cup. With the tournament approaching, and with 32 team previews available for consumption, it’s time to broaden our gaze and dissect the eight groups.

Call them group previews if you like. But they are more so discussions. There will be stage setting and narrative building. There will be questions to answer and pose. There will be analysis and opinions, plus predictions and more. Next up is Group C.

Group C team previews: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark

Group C tiers

Every World Cup group has its own structure; its own unique feel. But a simple numerical alignment, separating the four teams into anywhere between one and four tiers, goes a long way toward framing the discussion. And Group C is undoubtedly a 1-2-1.

It’s basically a beefed-up version of Group A. France, barring a meltdown, should go through. Australia, barring the invention of a potion that makes Tim Cahill 10 years younger, probably won’t. That leaves Denmark and Peru as the two candidates for one knockout round spot. They square off on the third day of the tournament – the first of Group C. Their matchup will set the tone for the remainder of the round robin.

Any reason to suspect a France choke?

Yes, actually. There is. Just not at the group stage.

France’s determination to remain less than the sum of its parts is almost admirable. It keeps things interesting. This Les Bleus edition can’t figure out what it is, because it can’t figure out which star to structure itself around. Some – N’Golo Kante and Kylian Mbappe, for example – can function fully in any formation. But Paul Pogba requires a 4-3-3 if he’s to be the centerpiece. Antoine Griezmann has become a top-10 attacker globally in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2, partnered by a more traditional striker with a complementary skill set. There is no happy middle ground that accommodates both. Or at least Didier Deschamps hasn’t found one. (More here.) And he may very well keep trying, which is one of the reasons to doubt France.

Will Didier Deschamps structure his France team around Paul Pogba at the 2018 World Cup? Or around one of his many other superstars? (Getty)

But there is simply too much firepower in Deschamps’ team, and not enough elsewhere in Group C, to worry. There’s no foe who can take advantage of France’s frailties like Colombia did in March. It’s extremely difficult to envision the favorites flopping twice. Heck, it’d be difficult to envision their reserve squad dropping more than four points.

Group C’s combined XI: all French?

No. But only thanks to Christian Eriksen, who’d probably start on France’s left in a 4-2-2-2, or centrally in a 4-3-3. But he’s the only one from Denmark, Peru or Australia that would crack a combined Group C starting 11.

Heck, if you exclude France’s projected starters from the equation, you still get a predominantly French 11: Alphonse Areola (France, PSG); Benjamin Pavard (France, Stuttgart), Presnel Kimpembe (France, PSG), Simon Kjaer (Denmark, Sevilla), Lucas Hernandez (France, Atletico Madrid); Blaise Matuidi (France, Juventus), Corentin Tolisso (France, Bayern Munich), Christian Eriksen (Denmark, Tottenham); Florian Thauvin (France, Marseille), Nabil Fekir (France, Lyon), Ousmane Dembele (France, Barcelona).

Peru’s emotions, part 1 – Está de regreso

Peru will be the most emotional team (and nation) at the World Cup. Because Peru está de regreso. It is back. It is here for the first time since 1982, and it – players and Peruvians all over the world, as one – is going to savor the next month.

And no, this isn’t just a clichéd way to explain Peru’s overperformance over the past 24 months. Its results – 16 wins, seven draws, two losses – in that timeframe, and its 13-match unbeaten run,  are more about tactics and cohesion than intangibles. But there is something special about this story. Something special about the thousands that have filled the Estadio Nacional well before kickoffs. Something special about their songs. Something special about the players’ passion that mirrors them.

This video expresses it better than I can in words:


Be right back, buying a Peruvian flag, then running through a wall.

Peru’s emotions, Part 2 – Paolo

Amplifying the emotions will be the return of Peru’s captain, Paolo Guerrero. The 34-year-old, his nation’s all-time leading goalscorer, has waited his entire career for a World Cup. In May, he had it stripped away from him by a suspension after testing positive for a cocaine metabolite. Guerrero’s ban, first handed down late last year, was initially reduced to six months, making him eligible for Russia. Then it was re-extended to 14 months.

But now he, too, está de regreso. He’s back. In a stunning development exactly two weeks before the tournament begins, Switzerland’s supreme court froze Guerrero’s ban, making him eligible to compete in Russia.

The ban, handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, had sparked national outcry in Peru. There had been protest marches in the streets of Lima. There was an impromptu rally at the national stadium. The captains of France, Peru and Australia signed a petition in support of Guerrero. The Swiss judge ultimately wrote in her decision that she had taken into account the ”rare surge of solidarity.”

The public fight for Guerrero almost seemed to bring the entire nation of Peru further together. Now the nation will feel as if it has triumphed. That will up its passion even further.

The importance of Paolo

Peru would not have been able to replicate Guerrero’s on-field impact. There are two ways in which it would have tried. Raul Ruidiaz could have come in as a direct – though stylistically different – replacement. Jefferson Farfan could have been shifted from his wide role into Guerrero’s striker spot. Now, the adaptations are unnecessary. Peru will have its most natural and clinical finisher. It will have its best back-to-goal target. And the same team that stormed through the second half of South American qualifying will be on the field in Russia.

Peru captain Paolo Guerrero’s World Cup hopes have been revived by a Swiss federal court. He’ll be in Russia after all, after a wild suspension saga. (Getty)

Or at least it could be. There are legitimate questions over Guerrero’s fitness. He has played just three matches – and only one from the start – since November. Given all those aforementioned emotions, and Guerrero’s importance as a figurehead, he’ll likely be in the 11. But how long he’ll last against Denmark, and how effective he’ll be, are unknowns.

Peru vs. Denmark

So who’s it going to be? Who’s going to advance? As our predictions below indicate, it’s so tough to call. It’s a toss-up. In a simplistic sense, it’s system v. individuals. Eriksen and Kjaer – and perhaps even Pione Sisto, Andreas Christensen and Kasper Schmeichel – and better than any player in Peru’s 23-man squad. But the Peruvians have a better recent track record; they play better soccer; they’re more battle-tested. And who knows, maybe that unparalleled emotion will propel them over the group’s hump.

Any reason to talk about Australia?

Um … don’t think so? Probably not? It can be difficult to assess Asian teams, because they come out of a qualification circuit teeming with minnows, then become the minnows themselves once they arrive at the World Cup. So perhaps Australia is better equipped to play spoiler as an underdog. It did, after all, hold Colombia to a 0-0 draw in March. But there’s nothing even remotely spectacular about the Socceroos, aside from their nickname.

Should France care about avoiding Argentina?

Yeah, probably. Which means winning the group, as opposed to going through as runner-up, is preferable. But there are no guarantees whatsoever that Argentina tops Group D. And France won’t know which slot to shoot for, because Group C’s Matchday 3 game kickoff four hours before Group D’s. So there shouldn’t be much drama here for France. That opening match between Peru and Denmark is the one to watch.

Group C TV schedule

All kickoff times ET

Saturday, June 16
France vs. Australia, 6 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)
Peru vs. Denmark, Noon (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)

Thursday, June 21
Denmark vs. Australia, 8 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)
France vs. Peru, 11 a.m. (Fox, Telemundo)

Tuesday, June 26
Denmark vs. France, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)
Australia vs. Peru, 10 a.m. (Fox/FS1, Telemundo/Universo)

Group C predictions

Ryan Bailey: France (1), Denmark (2)
Henry Bushnell: France (1), Peru (2)
Joey Gulino: France (1), Denmark (2)
Doug McIntyre: France (1), Peru (2)
Leander Schaerlaeckens: France (1), Denmark (2)

More 2018 World Cup group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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