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World Cup Group D Analysis: Mbappe, Benzema Lead France’s Defence Against Eriksen’s Resilient Danish Side
- France will be looking not to fall to the champions curse when they begin their World Cup title defence in Qatar
- Didier Deschamps has a new-look midfield and some key additions like Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema to the side that won in Russia
- Denmark is arguably the most balanced squad in Qatar after Argentina, and will be gunning for the top spot, especially after recent positive results against France
History has always done a disservice to defending World Cup Champions, especially in the last six editions bar 2006.
2006 was the only time a defending champion got out of the group stage, but was bundled out in the quarter-finals. This is something that will ring in Didier Deschamps' ears, as he leads out his side in an unprecedented pursuit of retaining a title they won in 2018.
- Star player: Karim Benzema/Kylian Mbappe
- Rising star: Aurelien Tchouameni
- Coach: Didier Deschamps
- Sports Brief's predicted finish: Semi-finals
- FIFA Ranking: 4
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Deschamps' enviable talent pool makes France the frontrunner to retain their title. The recalling of Karim Benzema, now the reigning Ballon d'Ór winner, to the international fold couldn't have come at a better time.
France's title defence will largely depend on the chemistry between Benzema and Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe starred in 2018 and at just 23 years of age, he will be seeking to add his second World Cup title.
Despite their recent UEFA Nations League struggles, where they survived relegation by a whisker, the frontline remains a dependable source of goals. Ousmane Dembele and Antoinne Griezmann are enjoying wonderful spells in La Liga.
The latter, who will start just behind the front two, has a knack for linking up play beautifully and is a dead ball specialist as well. Apart from Dembele, Deschamps has the luxury of calling upon Christopher Nkunku, Kingsley Coman and Olivier Giroud from the bench.
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However, the 54-year-old will have to make do with a new-look midfield. Injuries to N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are definitely a huge blow, but this will open up opportunities for other players to stake their claim in Les Bleus.
Adrien Rabiot looks like a certain starter, given his experience, and the onus is on Real Madrid starlet Aurelien Tchouameni to partner him. The former AS Monaco man has settled in well in the Casemiro role at Real Madrid.
The other issue for France is Hugo Lloris's frequent mistakes. He conceded in the 2018 final through a mistake and has also had some nervy moments for Tottenham this season. It could have been a perfect tournament for Mike Maignan to announce his arrival as Lloris' replacement but injuries - sigh!
Deschamps has toyed with a back-three defence that is most likely to feature Jules Kounde, Raphael Varane and Lucas Hernandez, with Theo Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard the fullbacks. Perhaps Pavard can recreate the stunner he scored against Argentina in 2018.
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But when announcing his squad, Deschamps said he could return to the 4-2-3-1 system that won him the title.
The bottom line is that France have the squad and the means, it will be down to the tactics - and a little bit of luck.
Possible XI: Lloris, Kounde, Varane, Lucas, Theo, Tchouameni, Rabiot, Pavard, Griezmann, Benzema, Mbappe
- Star player: Christian Eriksen
- Rising star: Mikkel Damsgaard
- Coach: Kasper Hjumland
- Sports Brief's predicted finish: Quarter-finals
- FIFA Ranking:
Christian Eriksen's recovery and subsequent inclusion in the World Cup squad is a testament that miracles do happen.
The midfielder suffered a cardiac arrest at the Euro Championships, where his side reached the semifinals against all odds. It is the same luck that the Danes will be hoping to ride on when they begin their campaign in Qatar.
Put in the same group as France for the second tournament running, Denmark will be buoyed by their recent results in the UEFA Nations League against the world champions.
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It is a pretty straightforward group on paper, but Denmark will set its sights on finishing first to avoid a potential meeting against Argentina in the round of 16.
Apart from Eriksen, Denmark boasts of a strong backline that has veteran Simon Kjaer, Joachim Andersen and Andreas Christensen.
Denmark's other stronghold is the midfield energy oozed by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney, who can break up opposition play and initiate attacks.
Damsgaard hasn't had much of club football at Brentford lately, but he will be looking for a similar perfect run he had at the Euros that culminated in that beautiful free kick against England.
Possible XI: Kasper Schmeichel, Wass, Kjaer, Christensen, Maehle, Delaney, Hojbjerg, Eriksen, Skov Olsen, Damsgaard, Braithwaite.
- Star player: Ajdin Hrustic
- Rising star: Awer Mabil/Garang Kuol
- Coach: Graham Arnold
- Sports Brief's predicted finish: Group Stage
- FIFA Ranking: 38
Graham Arnold has strongly divided opinion in Australia, but quickly won back his fanbase after guiding the Socceroos through a nerve-wracking playoff phase.
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This is a new-age Australian side with no Tim Cahill or Mile Jedinak, that will have to rely heavily on Ajdin Hrustic and Aaron Mooy's creativity.
Arnold's over-reliance on dead balls and transitional play, plus the lack of a consistent number 9, has left Australia vulnerable. Harry Souttar could pose a threat from set-pieces taken by Hrustic or Jackson Irvine.
18-year-old Garang Kuol, who joins high-flying Newcastle in January, is an option from the bench with his explosive pace.
Socceroos goalkeeper captain Mathew Ryan is their most experienced player and a reliable shot-stopper as well, but Australia's inability to stop crosses into their own box has always cost them.
Irvine has been integral in Arnold's set-up as a defensive midfielder, but he might need to up the tempo for his side in Qatar and dictate play, especially when faced with robust French and Danish midfields.
Australia last qualified from their group in 2006. Given that they are in the same group with Denmark and France, their wish might be postponed to 2026.
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Possible XI: Ryan, Souttar, Rowles, Atkinson, Behich, Mooy, Irvine, Boyle, Hrustic, Leckie, Mclaren
- Star player: Youssef Msakni
- Rising star: Hannibal Mejbri
- Coach: Jalel Kadri
- Sports Brief's predicted finish: Group Stage
- FIFA Ranking: 30
Jalel Kadri took over the Tunisia top job immediately after Mondher Kebaier was sacked, after the AFCON finals in Cameroon. He was Kebaier's assistant at the competition, but took charge of the team against Nigeria in the round of 16.
Kebaier was out with Covid-19 and Kadri masterminded a shock victory over the Super Eagles. They were eliminated in the quarter-finals before Kadri took full charge.
He has since lost only once, a 5-1 demolition at the hands of Brazil. The Carthage Eagles will be high on confidence, but will be well aware of the huge task at hand in Qatar. Kadri has declared that he will resign if his side doesn't reach the knockout phase.
Finding the back of the net has been a challenge. He will depend on the ageing duo of Youssef Msakni and Wahbi Khazri to inspire the team. Kadri prefers the 4-1-4-1 formation, with Msakni and Khazri playing either side of a striker, probably Saifeddine Jaziri.
This formation relies on the composure of Ferencavors midfielder Aissa Laidouni, who has shown intelligence beyond his age to dictate play. Kadri has a star-stacked midfield of Al Duhail's Ferjan Saissi, Manchester United starlet Hannibal Mejbri, and Esperance Tunis star Ben Romdhane among others.
Cologne's FC Ellyse Skhiri is also an important asset to this side with his ball progression. Yan Valery, formerly at Southampton, is also expected to man one fullback position, with Ali Maaloul manning the other side.
Possible XI: Dahmen, Talbi, Bronn, Valery, Maaloul, Skhiri, Laidouni, Chaaleli, Msakni, Jaziri, Khazri