World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group C hopefuls

France will headline Group C, but could Denmark and Peru surprise a few?

World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group C hopefuls
Griezmann could be a star of the tournament (photo: Getty Images / Xavier Laine)

Each day we preview four new World Cup nations. Can they win the ultimate process and secure the role of reigning World champions?

Today it's the turn of Group C. 

France

Known as: Les Bleus (The Blues)

Address: Stade de France, Paris

Best previous role: Champions, 1998

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Our strength in depth is among the best in the world, possibly rivalled by only Germany and Spain, and our squad boasts a wonderful blend of youth and experience. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele will seek to excite, while the cool heads of Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante and captain Hugo Lloris will ensure we remain composed. The mere fact that we can name such a myriad of talent while leaving the likes of Anthony Martial, Lucas Digne, Adrien Rabiot and Aymeric Laporte at home says vast amounts of the exceeding quality we possess.

We don’t have many weaknesses but we could end up relying on Griezmann’s goals. Only the Atletico Madrid striker, Mbappe and Nabil Fekir netted 20 goals or more last season, and with the 19-year-old Paris Saint Germain forward struggling to find the net regularly at international level – scoring three times in 13 appearances – and the Liverpool target unlikely to start, the pressure could fall on Griezmann to fire us to our second-ever World Cup.

What happened last time out?

We went to Brazil in 2014 as one of the favourites. Comprehensive group stage victories against Honduras and Switzerland proved our capabilities, but a goalless draw versus ten-man Ecuador showed what could happen if things don’t quick click. Nevertheless, we edged past Nigeria in the last 16 but came up unstuck against eventual winners Germany in the quarter-final.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We face Australia on 16 June, before taking on Peru on 21 June. We culminate our group meetings against Denmark 26 June and we expect to have another four meetings thereafter.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

We will move progressively through the thirds, aiming to keep possession and seeking to get the likes of Pogba, Mbappe, Dembele and Griezmann on the ball as early as possible. Our backbone is strong, with the likes of Kante, Matuidi, Raphael Varane, Adil Rami and Samuel Umtiti providing our strength when out of possession.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Griezmann. The scorer of 32 goals last season is by far our most potent threat. His transition from a tricky, direct winger into a goal-poacher over the last few years has been seamless, and he is a favourite to win the tournament’s golden boot.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Our batch of youngsters are unique in the sense that they are already well established and could scarcely be considered wildcards. Our closest asset to a wildcard could well be 31-year-old striker Olivier Giroud who has a habit of coming off the bench to score important goals.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Bringing only a second World Cup home to France. We have under-performed in recent tournaments and it’s about time we handled some silverware.

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Denmark

Known as: ‎Danish Dynamite

Address: Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Previous Best Role: Quarter-final 1998

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We are a team with a strong lower spine and we have a vigorous approach to the football we play. This is refreshing in this age of stereotypically 'boring' international matches. We also boast an array of top-flight talent which could prove beneficial.

The main concern is that we lack an international-class centre forward. Sure, the guys will work their socks off but it leaves too much responsibility for our main midfielder, Christian Eriksen. Inexperience at this level in that position could be our downfall.

What happened last time you out?

It's been a bit of a disaster recently, we failed to make it out of the group stage in 2010. It didn't get much better the following edition of the competition; our results meant that we didn't even qualify. Although second in the group, we were unable to secure a play-off berth.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We have already beaten Panama 1-0 back in March, and earlier this week we drew 0-0 with Sweden. We've arranged a meeting with Mexico. When we get to Russia, we face Peru on 16 June, before further meetings with Australia (21 June) and France (26 June). Any other meetings would be a bonus. 

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

We'll follow the plan we had in place when we met the others. Without giving too much away let's just say it's mostly about passing the ball to the talismanic Eriksen. If he doesn't score we'll give it back to him until he does.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

That has to be Eriksen for sure. Although we are lacking a bit in the centre forward department, we do have strength and depth in other areas. We have Kasper Schmeichel as the first choice goalkeeper, but this time we have a great back up too in Huddersfield's Jonas Lossl, so we are great in that area.

Any wildcards that may help you out?

23-year-old Viktor Fischer has had a really good second half of the season for Copenhagen, could be a good asset off the bench. The attacking midfielder is likely to be come out all guns blazing when if given the opportunity to prove himself.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks? 

Back in Denmark! Of course we'd like to win, but being realistic getting out of the group would be the best scenario. Ideally we'd love to better our quarter-final showing, which is the closest we've come.

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Australia

Known as: Socceroos

Address: Sydney football stadium

Best previous role: Round of 16, 2006

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The main strengths of our side are the healthy balance between youth and experience. The midfield area is where the main core of our team lies with the likes of Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy and the captain Mile Jedinak in there. We also have arguably one of the better goalkeepers who’ll be at the tournament in the shape of Mathew Ryan who just had a great season for Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League.

The weaknesses of this team are in defence, with somewhat a lack of experience and none of the players in this area playing at a great level with their club sides. The question of who will score the goals to get us through is a massive concern and the fact we’ve had to pick now 38-year-old Tim Cahill is pretty sad to be honest.

What happened last time out?

Brazil 2014 was always going to be a tough task for us Aussies after we were drawn in-group B alongside Chile, Netherlands and 2010 winners Spain. Two goals conceded early left us too much to do in the opener against Chile before we twice led against the Dutch through Cahill and a Jedinak penalty, but we ended up losing 3-2 and were out with the also already eliminated then holders still left to play.

Have you set up meetings with other candidates?

Just the three to start. We kick off against France on June 16 before taking on Denmark six days later, then our initial meetings come to a close on June 26 by facing Peru.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

No matter what strategy we come up with we’re going to find it hard to avoid defeat in our first game. As for the next two though, we have to play to our strengths in trying to play through our talented midfield and control the ball while also being creative.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Huddersfield midfielder Mooy is very much our star player and showed this past season that he was very comfortable at Premier League level. Mooy will need to have a more aggressive role for us than he does for his club and show off his great ability to shoot from distance.

Even at 38 you’d have to put Cahill in this category as well considering he’s scored five of our 11 World Cup goals, but he shouldn’t have to be at this tournament, to be honest.

Any wildcards that might help you?

24-year-old striker Jamie Maclaren might fulfill this role despite failing to score in any of his six socceroos caps so far. Maclaren got his desired loan move in January to try and find some form to get in this squad and here he is after scoring eight goals in 15 games for Hibernian of the Scottish Premiership.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Here in Australia we’d hope to be looking back on a tournament where we matched our best previous performance, but we’re under no illusions as to how tough it will be to achieve this goal. 

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Peru

Known as: La Blanquirroja (The White and Red)

Address: Estadio Nacional, Lima

Best previous role: Quarters, 1970

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We play with determination, discipline and creativity and that can be put down to coach Ricardo Gareca. With players like Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero (now that he's cleared to play), we'll have our strongest team in Russia and should present some very entertaining soccer to the fans.

Guerrero will be rusty since he hasn't had many matches recently and although Alberto Rodriguez is our best defender, he's also 34. We also don't have a lot of experience in this competition compared to our group rivals.

What happened last time out?

We haven't made the World Cup since 1982 and that year, we failed to get out of the group stages, only scoring twice. Our last two major competitions, both in the Copa América saw us finish third in both 2011 and 2015.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We beat Croatia in a friendly and just defeated Saudi Arabia 3-0 on Sunday. We have a game lined up with Sweden on Sunday before we head off to Russia.

What's your strategy to beat those candidates?

We usually play a 4-2-3-1 with Guerrero the lone striker, but we're tinkering with a 4-4-2 formation, pushing Farfan up front with Guerrero in order to break down more defensive opponents.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Paolo Guerrero. He's scored 34 goals in 87 appearances for the national team. With 134 goals at club level in his illustrious 16-year career, we need him to lead the line up front. He's by far our biggest threat in front of goal. Jefferson Farfan and Rodriguez are going to be crucial to our success. Farfan will need to help Guerrero out up front while Rodriguez has to steady the defence and provide solid leadership.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Renato Tapia is a 22-year-old star in the making who is regarded as our future captain. He's been in Europe with Dutch sides FC Twente and Feyenoord since 2013 so despite his young age, he's been playing at the highest level for a while now. Edison Flores is the team’s shining light and a constant goal threat. He has nine goals in the Gareca era and his presence in attack has been crucial in obtaining decisive victories – especially away from home against Paraguay and Ecuador. 

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

France have to be considered the favorites for the group, but if we can beat Denmark in our opening game, we have a chance to get out of the group stage. A Round of 16 appearance is a reasonable expectation.

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