MOSCOW (AP) Guide to the teams in Group C at the World Cup in Russia:
France is a young and vibrant team packed with flair and eye-catching talent.
The French twice recently took the lead while playing at World Cup champion Germany and caused the home defense all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of its devastating counter-attacks. But France is also prone to lapses in concentration, and that needs to be addressed if the team wants to win the trophy for the second time.
Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout, lost to Germany in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being the favorite in the Euro 2016 final at home against Portugal.
KEY PLAYER: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) – The three-time Champions League-winning center back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defense.
COACH: Didier Deschamps – Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semifinals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America’s fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian team that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017.
Many of the team’s players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo.
KEY PLAYER: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) – The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a FIFA doping ban.
COACH: Ricardo Gareca – The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru from South American qualifying. Since 2015 he has led a much better organized and well-paced Peruvian team to its first World Cup participation since 1982.
One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, Denmark is a team most will want to avoid.
Denmark hasn’t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championship but is unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016.
Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home against top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the second leg of the playoffs.
In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen created and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark’s fortunes in Russia.
KEY PLAYER: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – Only 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark’s unbeaten streak.
COACH: Age Hareide – The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country.
Qualified for its fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route through the playoffs after failing to secure direct entry on goal difference.
The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a playoff win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the tournament.
The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win its first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way.
Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured its place in Russia, and has yet to be replaced.
KEY PLAYER: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) – With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilize the midfield and score a hat trick against Honduras.
COACH: To be appointed.
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Source: Fox Sports