The Socceroos in a World Cup training session in Russia yesterday.
By TAS MAVRIDIS
Groups C and D feature a couple of campaigns for redemption. Both France and Argentina will look to bounce back after losing major international finals in recent years.
Dark horses Croatia are one side many will be wary of having the potential to shock some of the traditional powerhouses.
Australia will look to cause shock and get to their second knock out stage while Iceland will make their tournament debuts.
After a memorable tournament debut at Euro 2016, Iceland’s World Cup debut is sure to leave the world with lasting memories.
The Socceroos have drawn in Group C alongside a highly fancied French team, as well as Denmark and Peru.
France will start the tournament as one of the favourites for the title with second place being harder to call.
Australia will have a battle if they are to challenge the more fancied Denmark or Peru to continue through to the knockout phase.
The Socceroos had to qualify the hard way via two playoffs, ultimately sealing progression to their fourth consecutive World Cup after victory over Honduras in November.
Dutchman Bert Van Marwijk took charge of the side in 2018, following the departure of Ange Postecoglou at the end of World Cup qualification.
With a mix of local and overseas-based players, as well as a limited time in charge of the time, Van Marwijk has faced and will face some selection headaches.
With an array of midfielders playing across Britain and performing at a high level, the Socceroos coach has shown an uncertainty as to the best midfield combination.
Tactically, Australia are likely to deploy a 4-3-3 formation with the option to play a “false” 9 in the form of Andrew Nabbout or either an-out-and-out striker in the shape of Tomi Juric, Jamie Maclaren or Tim Cahill.
A player that will likely start all Australia’s games and be central to the side’s attacks is Mathew Leckie.
The Hertha Berlin Winger has found his goal-scoring touch for the Socceroos in the past year with his blistering pace sure to cause opposing defences headaches.
The lead up form has seen Australia bounce back from a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Norway to play out a 0-0 draw with Colombia followed by a 4-0 win against the Czech Republic and a 2-1 win against Hungary.
Mathew Leckie in action during a friendly at the weekend.
Les Bleus will go into the tournament as one of the favourites with plenty of commentary about how stacked their squad is with talent.
The French qualified after finishing first in a qualifying group that included Sweden and Holland.
Didier Deschamps took charge of the national side in 2012 and led them as they finished runner up in Euro 2016 on home soil.
Deschamps will have disposal to a squad with at least two world class players for every position giving the French options to change personnel and style depending on how a particular match is unfolding.
Among all the star names, Antoine Griezmann looms as one of the most integral parts of the team.
The Atletico Madrid forward scored 29 goals in the season just gone including a brace in the Europa League final.
Tactically Deschamps is likely to line up in a 4-3-3 formation with Griezmann supported up top by the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
France’s lead up form has been mostly strong with a 3-1 win over France headlining their lead up games.
However, a 1-1 draw against the USA in their final lead up game will give their group opponents some hope in getting a result out of this strong side.
Demmark qualified for the World Cup after a 5-1 aggregate win over Ireland in the playoff round of qualifying in November 2017.
Coached by Age Hareide, the Danish have proven to be a very well organised side difficult to breakdown with five clean sheets in their past six matches.
The undoubted star of this line up is Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen.
Eriksen will be the metronome of the Danish side, with his passing range and ability to score from anywhere in the attacking third likely to dictate the way the Danish side play.
Tactically this has led to Hareide setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Eriksen likely to sit in behind the main forward.
Denmark’s pre-tournament warm up form has seen the side struggle in the goal scoring front with a narrow 1-0 win over Panama, 0-0 stalemates against Chile and Sweden.
However, a 2-0 win over Mexico in their final warm up match will see Denmark head to Russia full of confidence.
La Blanquirroja qualified for their first World Cup since 1982 after defeating New Zealand in an Intercontinental playoff.
Coached by Ricardo Gareca since 2015, Peru have proven to be a very difficult team to breakdown for opposition defences with four clean sheets in five matches this calendar year.
Peru received a major boost with captain Paolo Guerrero cleared to play after having a drugs ban temporarily lifted.
Not only will the side have a major boost in the form of leadership but also goal scoring threat.
The Flamengo striker has scored 34 goals in 87 appearances for the national side including two in his most recent appearance in the side’s last game before the World Cup.
Gareca has seemingly settled on a variation of a 4-4-2 formation which could see the Christian Cueva either sit behind Guerrero or see the two biggest Peruvian goal threats play alongside each other in a front 2.
France should get through this group and go close to winning the tournament. The remaining spot is seemingly up for groups with my tip for Denmark to narrowly get through the group in second spot.
FIXTURES Saturday 16 June: France v Australia @ 8pm Sunday 17 June: Peru v Denmark @ 2am Thursday 21 June: Denmark v Australia @10pm Friday 22 June: France v Peru @ 2am Wednesday 27 June: Australia v Peru @ 12am, France v Demark @ 12am
Group D shapes to be one of the toughest groups to pick with Argentina drawn against Croatia, Nigeria and debutants Iceland.
Beaten Finalists in 2014, Argentina will hope to go one step further in 2018, however all three other teams in this group have quality and potential to do some damage at the World Cup
Runners up in their last three major international tournaments, La Albiceleste left qualifying until late on ultimately finishing in 3rd place behind Brazil and Uruguay.
Coached by former Chile coach Jorge Sampoli, the Argentine will look to lead his nation to their first senior title since 1993.
Despite having so many star players one man stands above the rest, Lionel Messi.
The Barca star will be desperate to win a major international title to cement himself as one of the greatest players of all time.
Concerns for Argentina in the lead up have been around two areas.
Firstly, tactically the side seems unsettled with Sampaoli changing things up a lot in recent games suggesting that he hasn’t quite found the way to get the most out of his stars.
In the most recent match up against Haiti, a 4-4-2 formation was used with Messi lining up as a forward alongside Higuain, with previous games seeing Messi drop into a midfield 3 behind a centre forward.
Secondly, lack of games due to two matches being cancelled as well as the lack of quality opposition may see Argentina lacking match sharpness in their opening match against Iceland.
Playing in their first ever World Cup, Iceland will look to back up their remarkable run in Euro 2016 by causing some upsets in a tough group.
Coached by local dentist Heimir Hallgrimsson since 2013, will set up to frustrate their opponents with the use of a 4-4-2 formation allowing the side to clog up the midfield with as many numbers as possible.
The star of the Iceland side is Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigudssson will be the man that the Iceland side turn to when it comes to creating attacking chances.
Lead up form for Iceland has been concerning with no wins from 4 games in 2018, with the only positive result being a 2-2 draw against Ghana.
The Super Eagles have received plenty of attention in the lead up to the World Cup with their kits being the centre of many conversations by football fans.
Coached by German Gernot Rohr, Nigeria will look to utilise their pace weapons and cause havoc against some of their more fancied opponents.
Nigeria became the first African side to qualify for the World Cup topping a group that included Algeria and reigning African Cup of Nations champions Cameroon.
There are plenty of players in the Nigerian team well known to English Premier League fans with the most notable being Chelsea’s Victor Moses and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi.
With Rohr deploying a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-5-2 formation, the likes of Victor Moses (who traditionally plays as a wing back for Chelsea) will support John Obi Mikel and Iwobi in behind the most forward player.
The lead up form for Nigeria has shown some promise despite not recording a win in 3 matches.
A draw against Congo was followed up with losses against England and Czech Republic will leave Rohr with plenty to do before matchday one.
Coached by Zlatko Dalic, Croatia will go into the tournament as one of the dark horses and a team many will wish to avoid along the way.
With a group of midfielders playing at some of the best European teams, Real Madrid star Luka Modric will be a central part of a midfield that also includes the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic.
Dalic has tried to make the most of this star studded midfield strength by deploying a variation of a 4-2-3-1 formation with the central forward being another well-known star, Mario Mandzukic.
Two high quality hit outs will ensure that Croatia is ready to go in just a few days’ time.
Despite a 2-0 loss against Brazil, plenty of lessons to take into the World Cup will have been noted by Dalic, with a 2-1 win over Senegal ensuring that the Croatians go into the tournament with some positive form.
Despite all four teams posing dangers in this group, Argentina and Croatia should prove to be one step too far for the other two teams in this group.
FIXTURES Saturday 16 June: Argentina v Iceland @ 11pm Sunday 17 June: Croatia v Nigeria @ 5am Friday 22 June: Argentina v Croatia @ 4am Saturday 23 June: Nigeria v Iceland @ 1am Wednesday 27 June: Argentina v Nigeria @ 4am, Iceland v Croatia @ 4am