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World Cup 2022

Group D

by Elliot Fern 10 Nov 2022

Déjà vu for many of these teams. Australia faced France, Denmark and Peru 4 years ago. And they knocked out Peru (just) to face France & Denmark once again. France and the Danes drew, as did the Danes and the Aussies. France edged their way past Australia en route to World Cup glory. How will Tunisa’s arrival impact the group having ran England close 4 years ago?

France will be looking to repeat World Cup glory and subsequently avoiding the World Cup curse that Germany, Spain, Italy have succumbed to in past tournaments. Denmark holds one of the dark horses cards after imperious form in recent matches – can they beat the big teams when it matters most though? After some stalemates 4 years ago, let’s hope the sequel is a better watch…

Australia

Australia hoping not to go down under as goalkeeper Redmayne dances his way to the World Cup…

In 2014 goalkeeper Tim Krul was substituted on in a World Cup knockout match for the Netherlands before the penalty shootout – and made 2 crucial saves. Australian manager Graham Arnold performed the same trick against their World Cup playoff against Peru. Substitute goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne saved a crucial spot-kick with a dancing tactic whilst also throwing the Peruvian goalkeeper’s water bottle into the crowd (which had clues as to how Australia’s players were going to take their penalties). The play-off took place in Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Qatar (which begs the question, why has the World Cup been moved to the winter when they could have been played there in the summer?) Anyhow, Australia had made it to their 6th World Cup.
 
Australia’s previous best effort came in 2006 where they just fell short against Italy in the last-16 thanks to a late Totti penalty. When you think of Australia at the World Cup, you think of Tim Cahill ,who scored 5 goals for them across different tournaments, celebrating with his trademark punching the corner flag celebration. Since his retirement, no-one has really stepped up to the mark in his place.
 
Former Premier League goalkeeper and Australia captain Maty Ryan now plays for FC Copenhagen and will be between the sticks in Qatar. Aaron Mooy is key in midfield and now pays for Scottish Champions Celtic. But some of Australia’s contingent plays in the domestic A-league which poses a problem for manager Arnold who claims match fitness is an issue with the domestic season set to start in October. Melbourne City forward Jamie Maclaren will lead the line having scored 7 goals in qualification. Jason Cummings (Central Coast Mariners) has also been potent in front of goal in the A-League and hopes to start alongside Maclaren. Trent Sainsbury is an experienced international defender and will also have some knowledge of the host country where he plays for Qatari club Al-Wakrah. Ajdin Hrustic has some top-flight European experience with Eintracht Frankfurt and now Hellas Verona in Serie A; he scored against UAE and Japan in qualification and fans would expect him to start in the World Cup. Tom Rogic is hoping for regular time under West Brom having left a trophy-laden career at Celtic. Tyrese Francois of Fulham and defender Bailey Wright of Sunderland are also expected to be included but Matthew Leckie who has played most of his career in the Bundesliga and has 13 goals to his name isn’t guaranteed a spot on the place – arguably his experience is very much needed.
 
One name to look out for is Garang Kuol (born in Egypt but eligible for Australia) who will officially join Newcastle when the winter transfer window opens in January. The Magpies are likely to loan the teenage forward out to a European side; manager Eddie Howe said: "He's had a dramatic rise and he's in a position that excited everybody." He was called up to face New Zealand and will attempt to secure the last spot on the plane to the World Cup…
 
So, what are their chances in the World Cup?
 
Australia are always entertaining at the World Cup and although they have a blend of experience and youth in their ranks, a lack of star quality will probably be their undoing. This time around the achievement seemed to be around reaching the World Cup rather than making an impact in the group stage. And for that reason, any further progression would be a surprise.
 

Verdict: Group Stage (4th place - 0 points)

Manager: Graham Arnold (Australia) – He scored 19 goals himself as a national team player, he was one of the A-League’s best performing managers and has been the man in the hotseat since the last World Cup 4 years ago where Australia didn’t perform too well. He himself has played for the Socceroos scoring 19 goals in 54 appearances and he celebrated reaching the World Cup by reaching out to the Prime Minister: "I called out Anthony Albanese the other day to give everyone the day off to celebrate this...I believe this is one of the greatest achievements ever."
 
Key players: Jamie Maclaren will need to replicate his league form at the highest of stages. He is an accomplished finisher, a poacher who find himself in the right spaces at the right time. Able to score left-footed and right-footed, his reactions to the ball loose in the box are quick. He also possesses a decent header and is calm from the penalty spot - top league goal scorer in 4 of the past 5 seasons to boot too. Maclaren represented Scotland at youth level (eligible through his father). Trent Sainsbury has over 50 caps for Australia and will hope to form a part of a strong backline along with goalkeeper Maty Ryan who has had stints at Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion (he kept 28 clean sheets in 124 appearances)

 

Denmark

Eriksen's return brings Danish delight. Schmeichel to emulate his Dad and bring silverware?

When you think of Denmark it is hard not to return to the European championships and think of Eriksen’s dreadful collapse where the world forgot about football and could only hope for the best in terrible circumstances. Danish captain Simon Kjaer was applauded for his reaction and "exceptional leadership qualities", as not only did he put Eriksen in the recovery position and start CPR, but he also used his team-mates as a shield to keep Eriksen from the view of the media and then comforted the Manchester United' player's other half.
 
In that tournament Denmark then went on a remarkable run to the semi-finals before running out of steam against England at Wembley. The Danes' team ethic, spirit and quality on the pitch makes them dark horses for the World Cup. If they have the squad depth though, that remains to be seen. This is only Denmark’s 6th World Cup with their best record coming in 1998 where they reached the Quarter finals (losing to finalists Brazil 3-2). Denmark will wear "toned down" Hummel shirts for the World Cup to protest against host Qatar's human rights record and its treatment of migrant workers during stadium builds.
 
Looking at team tactics, their strength lies in defence with the experienced Kasper Schmeichel who has had a bumpy start to his Nice career but remains a dependable goalkeeper. Kjaer and Christensen at centre back provides Champions League level experience. Joachim Andersen, if chosen, is drawing plenty of plaudits from Premier League pundits for his defensive work but more notably his extraordinary range of passing which can bypass several opposing players. Before that other teams will have to breach another level of defence in the shape of Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney and Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg who are capable of roaming forward too. Yussuf Poulsen is a dangerous attacking player although has only bagged a couple of goals recently in a DFB cup game for RB Leipzig. Christian Eriksen needs little introduction and has a world class range of passing that carve open defences - he has 2 assists to his name so far this season. Jensen of Brentford has been involved in 3 goals for the Premier League outfit this season and has introduced an interesting crouching throw in technique which helps players to control the ball upon receiving it - we will see if this is introduced for the national side. Braithwaite has 3 goals in 6 matches at the time of writing for Espanyol and so still capable upfront. Denmark played a 3-4-3 formation last time out away from 4-2-3-1 which they employed at the Euros.
 
So, what are their chances in the World Cup?
 
They were ousted by World Cup finalists Croatia last time out and may face tough opponents in the last-16 in the way of Argentina. First-up though they have to navigate the group; they faced World Champions France in 2018 where they played out a goalless draw, so it won’t be a team they fear. Australia are enthusiastic but perhaps lack superstar quality. Tunisia proved to be stubborn opponents for England last-time out so Denmark will be wary too of their African rivals.
 
Verdict: Group D runners up (5 points) Last 16
 
Manager: Kasper Hjulmand (Denmark) – The former manager of Mainz and Nordsjælland, the latter of which he won the league with, became manager of Denmark ahead of the Euros and what a Euros he had! Taking his team to the semi-finals despite early defeats to Finland and Belgium under difficult circumstances. But this wasn’t the first occasion that such an incident has occurred; Jonathan Richter from Nordsjælland, a team coached by Hjulmand in 2009 suffered a similar incident:
 
“He was struck by lightning and was also briefly dead. With Christian we knew pretty quickly that things were going well, with Jonathan it took two months before we knew if he would survive.” If Hjulmand had his time again he wouldn’t have decided to play on against Finland at the Euros but he felt he had no choice: “It was a stupid decision. I wish I had had the courage to tell the players to get on the bus and go back to the hotel.”
 
The manager is curious as to how far he can take this Danish side: “I’m still curious about what can be done with Danish football. We play well, get good results, connect people, but we haven’t won anything yet. You can call that a dream, but I like dreams.”
Denmark dared to dream at the 1992 Euros. When asked about the Danes chances of taking the World Cup home to Copenhagen: “I think it’s great (that we are dark horses) because it means we’re obviously doing something right. For me, the only thing better would be if they say we are one of the favourites!”
 
He has won 68% of matches which is a good omen. With just three goals conceded in their entire campaign, their defence was among the best in European qualifying and they will need to be that stubborn in Qatar.
 
Key players: Christian Eriksen remarkably returned to the international scene in two friendlies against Serbia and the Netherlands at the end of March, scoring two of Denmark’s five goals with a strike in each game. Kasper Schmeichel, son of infamous Peter Schmeichel, has made 80 appearances for Denmark and will look to make history by winning the World Cup for the first time for his country. He already has the Premier League and FA Cup amongst other silverware under his belt. Kasper Dolberg is a dangerous player who has already scored 10 goals for his country (although struggling for his club side Nice at the time of writing).
 

France

France to defend their crown or follow the World Cup Winner curse?

And here they are. The defending World Champions, France. And they’re looking as good as they were 4 years ago, despite falling short in the European championships – the Swiss who put them out the tournament despite being 3-1 down said they were complacent: "The French thought they had won at 3-1," said Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka after the game. A world away from the final against Croatia back in 2018; where Kylian Mpabbé, became the first teenager to score in a final since Pelé. France were youthful in 2018, played without fear and had a clear identity – can they rediscover this ahead of 2022? They’re full of stars, the aforementioned Mbappe, Griezmann, Kante, Kingsley Coman, Moussa Diaby, Lucas Hernandez… the list goes on. Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane are able to perform their best for Les Bleus too although the former will have to prove fitness following knee surgery. But despite Mbappe getting the spotlight, it is a player that missed out on the World Cup that is likely to take centre stage. Ballon D'or winner Karim Benzema has been in the form of his life for Real Madrid (scoring 44 goals last year) and took his side to an unlikely Champions League triumph and a more predictable La Liga title. Arsenal’s central defender William Saliba is having an outstanding season defensively and in front of goal too – despite the competition, it would be surprising if he didn’t make the squad too.
 
Defending World Champions have a poor record at World Cups in recent editions; in 2018 Germany were the fifth defending World Cup champions failing to advance out of the group stage. The first nation to be eliminated in group stage was Brazil in 1966. Four of the last five World Cup champions have been cursed with the same fate: France in 2002, Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018. Is motivation lacking? Or does it put a target on their back and encourages teams to throw everything at them? Motivation and tactics will be key if France are going to retain their title.
 
So, what are their chances in the World Cup?
 
No team has won back-to-back World Cup titles since Brazil's wins in 1958 and 1962. But France have more than enough quality to defend the title and they are the logical choice to claim their third World Cup title. Denmark, also in their group, are strong and not to be underestimated (they will face each other too in the Nations League in the rehearsal) but are yet to crack that top tier level of teams, Tunisia are resilient but beatable and Australia may not put fear into French fans. So, they should comfortably make it out the group, if they finish top, perhaps one of Poland and Mexico, then potentially England in the quarters. In short, despite favouritism aligned with the South American nations (they are perhaps not the powerhouses that the Brazil 2002 side were or Argentina in 1986), France should defend their title, and perhaps comfortably. But as we have seen in 2002 and in 2010, France has the capability to capitulate.
 
Verdict: Group D Winners (7 points) – World Cup finalists
 
Manager: Didier Deschamps (France) – World Cup winner as a player and as a manager. European cup winner with France as a player, Nations League winner as a manager. He has played for Juventus, Marseille, Nantes, Bordeaux, Chelsea, Valencia; this is a man who has played and managed at the highest level. The manager remained calm following the World Cup draw: "You can’t really get carried away after a draw. We can mention Denmark and talk about what they did at the EURO, making the semi-finals, and that they're 11th in the FIFA Rankings. They are among the best European nations. We are world champions but that was four years ago.”
 
Key players: Well, the firepower is clear. With two world class strikers, Mbappe and Benzema should score the goals. So perhaps it is the other end we should pay our attention to: Bayern Munich’s Lucas Hernandez’s mantlepiece is currently peppered with winners’ medals for the Bundesliga (two), DFB Cup, German Supercup, World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Europa League, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Supercup (two) and the UEFA Nations League. As a result of World Cup heroics, Hernandez and his France teammates were awarded the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, or French Legion of Honour, in 2019. His brother, Theo has played for Real Madrid and now AC Milan and could line-up along him in Qatar.

 

 

 

Tunisia

 

Kirin Cup Winners hoping to mix substance with surprise…

Ranked 30th in the world – Tunisia is once again hoping to make deep inroads into the World Cup having fallen short last time out. The North Africans will be making their 6th appearance at the World Cup Finals having beaten Mali 1 goal to nil on aggregate to qualify. In 2018, the Eagles of Carthage were narrowly beaten by England thanks to a late Harry Kane winner, beaten comfortably by Belgium 5-2 before beating Panama. Their win against Panama was only their second World Cup Finals win since beating Mexico at the 1978 World Cup. In a bid to better previous World Cup results Tunisia participated in the 2022 Kirin Cup alongside Ghana, Japan and Chile – which they won, beating Japan 3-0 in the final. In 2021, they were finalists also in the Arab Cup but their last major triumph came back in 2011 where they were winners of the African Nations Championship.
 
Having long favoured attacking football, Tunisia in recent times have become a team renowned for their resolute defence. Tunisia have kept clean sheets in 22 of the 47 matches played since 2019 and conceded only 29 goals in 25 matches. Ligue 1 player Montassar Omar Talbi forms an important part of that defence and featured in their Kirin Cup win in the summer. Moreover, their rear-guard has never been breached more than twice in one game, which happened on just four occasions. Mbappe, Benzema and Eriksen will test that defence to its maximum.
 
So, what are their chances in the World Cup?
 
Tunisia can certainly compete, but can they beat their European opponents? Unless France have a 2010 style self-implosion, their chances could be slim (they are facing Brazil as a World-cup warm up which may help). Getting something from the opening Denmark game will be pivotal as well as 3 points against Australia who struggled to make the tournament. Denmark have to be off their game as they have been in excellent form and Tunisia on theirs if they are to stand a chance. Their experience playing in Qatar in the Arab Cup and scoring against Belgium and England in 2018 illustrate that they can be a threat and that must put them in good stead. Until some world class stars emerge, another group stage exit beckons though.
 
Verdict: Group Stage (3rd - 4 points)
 
Manager: Jalel Kadri (Tunisia) – Mondher Kebaier was sacked the day after the team's elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations by Burkina Faso and his assistant Kadri took the hotseat. He successfully guided Tunisia against Mali in a 2-game play-off. They must not lose against Denmark in the opening match; Kadri has been at many different clubs since 2001 but trying to get Tunisia to the second round will represent his biggest challenge yet.
 

"The draw for the Qatar 2022 World Cup has placed Tunisia in a difficult group but we will play with the objective of reaching the second round for the first time in our history," Kadri said following the draw in the Qatari capital.

"France is an opponent that we respect enormously. They are the title holders so it's a big challenge. There is a large population of Tunisians in France, as we know."
 
Key players: Both Kadri and his predecessor relied on players based in Middle Eastern leagues rather than those of Europe, however there are some exceptions including Montassar Omar Talbi (Lorient) ,Wahbi Khazri (Montpellier), Ellyes Skhiri (FC Koln) and Dylan Bronn (Salernitana). Montpellier’s Khazri is Tunisia’s second all-time goal-scorer, and he will be their talisman leading into the World Cup. Ellyes Skhiri, a player of both French and Tunisian background, plays for Cologne (and linked with Borussia Dortmund) is a talented defensive midfielder. His main assets are his running; in the 2020/21 Bundesliga season, Skhiri managed to cover over 246 miles! That's 5 more than his nearest challenger to that crown. No Bundesliga player made as many tackles as him in that season neither.
 
Naïm Sliti is a Tunisian professional footballer who plays as a left Midfielder for the Ettifaq FC in the Saudi Professional League and is a talented dribbler; he made the 2018 squad but didn’t make the starting lineup – perhaps 2022 will be his chance? Youssef Mskani plays in Qatar and is an experienced forward for Tunisia with 80 caps to his name and 15 goals but has never featured at a World Cup. Last time he was ruled out by a cruciate ligament injury in his right knee a few weeks into the 2018 tournament. Key players or potential key players alike, they will all have to raise their game in order to progress to the second round.
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