Is it wrong to call the defending world champions second favorites in group play in any circumstance?
Because based on recent results, it’s Denmark that appears to be the best team in this group and France has already dropped several players due to injury with Karim Benzema among others being ruled out prior to the opening game.
Denmark on the other hand are flying, knocking off France twice in Nations League play this year and could be primed to make their second ever quarterfinal stage at the World Cup. Tunisia and Australia are not group stage regulars, but do usually pick up at least one result before going home. But can the Danes make it a hat trick of wins over the world champion French in one year?
Tue, Nov. 22, Denmark vs. Tunisia 8 a.m., Education City Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
Tue, Nov. 22, France vs. Australia 2 p.m., Al Janoub Stadium - FOX, Telemundo
Sat, Nov. 26, Tunisia vs. Australia 5 a.m., Al Janoub Stadium - FS1, Telemundo
Sat, Nov. 26, France vs. Denmark 11 a.m., Stadium 974 - FS1, Telemundo
Wed, Nov. 30, Tunisia vs. France 10 a.m., Education City Stadium - FOX, Telemundo
Wed, Nov. 30, Australia vs. Denmark 10 a.m., Al Janoub Stadium - FS1, Universo
AUSTRALIA [AUS/D2 - Pot 4]
Head Coach: Graham Arnold (AUS)
Rankings: FIFA 38 / ELO 38
Qualification: AFC Third Round Group B 3rd Place; AFC Playoff Winners vs UAE 2-1; Intercontinental Playoff Winners vs Peru on PKs (0-0 draw)
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies – W at New Zealand 2-0; W vs New Zealand 1-0
Players You Should Know/Watch: MID Aaron Mooy (Celtic), FWD Mathew Leckie (Melbourne City), GK Andrew Redmayne (Sydney FC)
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a vintage Australian Socceroos team, but Tim Cahill isn’t walking through that door so we’ll have to settle for Andrew Redmayne’s heroics/shenanigans above. Apologies to Peru as I go pour out an Inca Cola. Australia scored the most goals in their final Asian qualifying group but had to navigate the playoffs to make their 5th straight World Cup. Midfielder Aaron Mooy is as close to a talisman as they have right now and it’ll probably be Mathew Ryan starting in net who has done a fine job replacing the legend Mark Schwarzer.
The Aussies have not really been a factor at either of the last two World Cups and probably won’t be here either even against a depleted France side. But they’re going to have a blast and go down fighting and we’re going to love them all the way for it.
DENMARK [DEN/D3 - Pot 2]
Head Coach: Kasper Hjulmand (DEN)
Nickname: Red and Whites, Danish Dynamite
Rankings: FIFA 10 / ELO 9
Qualification: UEFA Group F Winners
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1998)
Recent Results: UEFA Nations League A Flight/Group 1 – L at Croatia 1-2; W vs France 2-0
Player You Should Know: MID Christian Eriksen, Manchester Utd (ENG), 117 Int’l Caps / 39 goals
Player You Should Watch: FWD Andres Skov Olsen, Club Brugge (BEL), 23 Int’l Caps / 8 goals
I have a not so hot take about Denmark – I think they are the best team is this group and they were before France started stacking up injuries in the weeks leading up to this tournament. The Danes beat the French twice in Nations League play with that sweep nearly helping secure a spot in the semifinals but Croatia won the group by a point.
Christian Eriksen’s return from his traumatic medical scare at the Euros continues to amaze Along with Olsen who led the team in qualifying with five goals, tied with defender Joakim Pedersen, this squad gives Denmark options on the run of play and on set pieces and should be considered a darkhorse for a deep knockout run especially if they top the group.
FRANCE [FRA/D1 - Pot 1]
Head Coach: Didier Deschamps (FRA)
Nickname: Les Bleus
Rankings: FIFA 4/ ELO 7
Qualification: UEFA Group D Winners
Appearance: 16th / Best Finish: Champions (1998, 2018)
Defending champions France drop their 25-player roster for the World Cup pic.twitter.com/9JRFV18eYO— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 9, 2022
Recent Results: UEFA Nations League A Flight/Group 1 – L 0-2 at Denmark; W 2-0 vs Austria
Players You Should Know/Watch: FWDs Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Olivier Giroud (Milan), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
This is not the same French team that won the World Cup four years, and with the injury list able that is certainly understandable. This team however is still very good, but they come into this tournament not in the greatest of form. They seemingly coasted through qualifying unbeaten before getting pasted in Nations League play, finishing in third and well behind Croatia and Denmark.
Injuries aside, this team should still easily get to the knockouts but it’s very possible the defending champs could be one-and-done when they get there. Injuries mean this squad is going deeper into its talent pool and relying on players without a lot of international experience, especially in midfield and defense. Despite that, Mbappe, Griezmann, and Giroud have so much quality they can absolutely carry this team deep into the knockouts.
TUNISIA [TUN/D4 - Pot 3]
Head Coach: Jalel Kadri (TUN)
Nickname: Eagles of Carthage
Rankings: FIFA 30 / ELO 40
Qualification: CAF Second Round Group B Winners; Third Round Winners vs Mali on aggregate 1-0
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Group Stage (5 previous appearances)
Recent Results: Unofficial Friendly – L 0-2 vs Iran; Int’l Friendlies L 1-5 vs Brazil; W 1-0 vs Comoros
Players You Should Know: FWDs Wahbi Khazri and Youssef Msakni, 180 combined caps / 41 combined goals
Player You Should Watch: MID Hannibal Mejbri, Birmingham City on loan from Man Utd (ENG), 19 Int’l caps / 0 goals
Tunisia are an interesting squad, with a decent French diaspora representing their squad a handful of players dotting Ligue 1 amongst other European and Middle East clubs. At the last World Cup they were minutes away from a draw with England before a Harry Kane stoppage time winner ended such dreams as they very clearly were the third best team behind powerhouses Belgium in that group as well.
Mejbri is someone I’m really interesting in seeing play and very well could be getting regular minutes for Man United in the near future. In a different group, I think they would be a solid darkhorse contender for the knockouts with recent wins over Chile and Japan in a friendly tournament over the summer.
This seems like a fairly uncomplicated group, with the in form Danes a clear favorite over the defending champs for me. Assuming Denmark tops the group, that would set up a second straight Round of 16 matchup between Argentina and France, and I think the soccer gods do have a sense poetic justice as France used that win to springboard themselves to a title last time around. But this time it will be Argentina using said victory to push them towards another potential final.
Denmark - France - Tunisia - Australia