World Cup 2018: Tough draw, but Aussies stay hopeful

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Antoine Griezmann will be a key player for France. 

By TAS MAVRIDIS

The FIFA World Cup draw for 2018 has been completed, providing countries with a clear indication of what they will face on the road to glory next June in Russia.

The draw saw Australia placed in group C alongside France, Denmark and Peru.

Despite all three opponents being ranked inside the top 12, many Australians remain optimistic about their team’s chance of progressing out of the groups stage for the first time since 2006.

Here is a rundown of each team, as well as the times for each game that Australia will play

France v Australia
June 16 2018 at 8pm

Played at the Kazan Arena, Australia will kick off their campaign against football heavyweights France.

Australia have met France on four previous occasions, with the last being a 6-0 win to France in 2011, which signalled the end of Holger Osieck’s reign.

Without being pessimistic, the key to progressing to the knockout stage will be maintaining a respectable score line in this game. Australia must ensure their goal difference isn’t irreparably damaged as it was in 2010.

The lesson from 2006 was Australia had a goal difference of zero, meaning it was enough to progress to the next stage. This was due to limiting the rampaging Brazilians to a two-goal win, while beating Japan by the same margin. 

In 2010 a 4-0 hammering to Germany in the opening game meant that despite gaining four points like the previous tournament, Australia failed to progress, with a goal difference of negative three. 

However, with a ranking of nine and some of the best players in the world, France will make sure this is no easy task. Some of the French attacking options available include Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann and PSG’s Kylian Mbappe.

Furthermore, with the likes of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante just two of the midfield options, the French will not only go in as favourites to win the group but to potentially win the tournament too.

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Christian Eriksen in action against Ireland.

Denmark v Australia
June 22 2018 at 10pm

Playing at the Cosmos Arena in Samara, Australia will need to get something out of this match to progress (should they be beaten by the French).

The Socceroos have played Denmark three previous times with the last being a 2-0 win to Denmark in 2012. Ranked 12 in the world, Denmark’s key player is Tottenham star Christian Eriksen.

The attacking midfielder scored a stunning hat-trick in the Danes’ play-off against Ireland to book their place for Russia 2018. His creativity and shooting ability will be the main point of attack that Australia will have to shut down.

Giving Eriksen too much space would be deadly and could allow him to take the game out of Australia’s hands.

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Jefferson Farfan may be be Peru’s main hope. 

Australia v Peru
June 27 2018 at 12am

The Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi will be the venue for the first senior meeting between Peru and Australia.

Like the Australians, Peru also had to go through the Intercontinental playoff, defeating New Zealand 2-0 on aggregate to book their ticket to the World Cup for the first time since 1982.

Despite their ranking of 11 in the world, Australia will take some confidence out of New Zealand’s performance, especially in the first leg of the pla- off.

With Peru Captain Paolo Guerrero facing a potential doping ban therefore ruling him out of the World Cup, the main man for Peru is Jefferson Farfan of Lokomotiv Moscow.

While he currently plays in Russia, Farfan boasts some pedigree including stints at clubs such as PSV in Holland and German giants Schalke.

Despite only scoring three goals in the 2018 qualifiers, importantly he scored one of the goals in the play-off to fill the void of Guerrero’s absence.

Both countries will view this game as the best chance to pick up a win at the World Cup.

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Delle Ali will be along those to lead the way for the English. 

Other notable fixtures

With some big names in pot two and three, it means that outside of Australia there are some very interesting match-ups to look forward to in the other groups. Here are two. 

England v Belgium

The third game of group G to take place at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 29, this matchup is likely to determine who will finish in first spot.

However, with England’s poor record in major tournaments of late that situation is by no means a lock.

On one side of the match-up, Belgium is enjoying their golden generation of players with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens up front and players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Radja Nainggolan in the midfield providing coach Roberto Martinez with plenty of options.

With many from the Belgian team usually playing in England alongside their opponents on this day, it is easy to see how both sides will be eager to get up for this match.

England will look to turn around their fortunes at major tournaments with the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana (who was so important in qualifying before his injury) leading the way for the English.

With both teams on paper having the potential to cause some damage, this match-up will be watched with anticipation by many around the world. 

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Leo Messi will lead the star-studded Argentinian team. 

Argentina v Croatia

The second game for the teams in group D, Argentina v Croatia will take place on the June 22 (after the Australia v Denmark game, for those interested in pulling an all-nighter).

Both teams had their issues through qualifying, with Croatia going through the play-offs and beating Greece 4-1 after finishing second in their group behind Iceland (also in this group), while Argentina’s qualification was not secured until the final block of qualifiers.

However, despite this no one can deny the star power each side boasts. Argentina – runners up at the last World Cup – will be led by Leo Messi who will be desperate to win an international trophy.

Despite struggling to gel, the choice of players such as Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi should provide Messi with a supporting cast good enough to at least feature at the pointy end of the tournament again.

On the other hand, Croatia have underperformed since their third place finish at France in 1998.

However, with top quality players such as Luka Modric of Real Madrid leading the midfield and supported by Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia have enough talent in the midfield to challenge any country.

With Juve Star Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic of Milan just two of the forward options, if Croatia can get it right there is no reason they can provide not only Argentina with issues but also have a repeat of their France 1998 performance.

The World Cup will kick off on June 15 with Russia playing Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.