Paris, France | Xinhua | Titleholders France look to have been placed in an easy group at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Denmark, Australia and Tunisia will compete with the defending champions for two tickets into the last 16.
It is not hard to predict the favorites and underdogs in the group as France and Denmark are ranked in FIFA’s top 10, while Tunisia and Australia are both out of the top 20 and have combined to play only one World Cup knockout game in all time.
Despite the absence of injured midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, France remains one of the outright favorites for the tournament with a wonderfully gifted pool of players, including the attacking trio Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann.
Here is a breakdown of the four teams in Group D, which kicks off on November 22 when Denmark faces Tunisia at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan.
No nation has retained the World Cup title since Pele-led Brazil teams of 1958 and 1962; what’s more, all the defending champions in the previous three editions, named Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014, and Germany in 2018, didn’t survive the group stage.
Will Les Bleus snap the streak? With Mbappe becoming a super striker and Ballon d’Or winner Benzema back in the squad, coach Didier Deschamp should have confidence in his team.
It is Deschamp’s tenth year with the French national team, and the 54-year-old will try to bounce back from a disappointing UEFA Euro 2020 run that ended in the round of 16, losing to Switzerland in penalties.
As well as established stars, the French also have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of young talents, among them Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Christopher Nkunku, William Saliba and Jules Kounde; all the five players will make their World Cup debut in Qatar.
The injuries of star midfielders Pogba and Kante were definitely the biggest blow to the team. A lack of experience with the replacements, such as Tchouameni and Camavinga, maybe a potential weakness for the reigning champions
Star player: Karim Benzema
The Real Madrid forward had a perfect 2021-2022 season, during which he won the Champions League and La Liga with the Spanish giants. He was named the UEFA Men’s Player of the year and won the Ballon d’Or. Along with Mbappe, he will be France’s key man in Qatar.
Since resuming his international career at Euro 2020, following an absence of five and a half years, the former Lyon striker has scored 10 goals in 16 international appearances and has shown how much of a matchwinner he is.
Benzema made a fast start at his last World Cup finals, Brazil 2014, scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Honduras in France’s opening match. He ended the tournament with three goals in five games. Eight years on, can he make an impact at Qatar 2022?
Denmark’s football history has been marked by their sensational winning at Euro 1992 when the Danish Fairytale made the headlines all over the world.
Last year at Euro 2020, the Danish team came close to glory again, having somehow recovered from the trauma of star player Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in the opening match to make an unlikely run to the semifinals.
Even more impressive was their form in the World Cup qualifying. Denmark secured the berth with a couple of games to spare.
In the UEFA Nations League, Denmark beat France twice in just four months. It’s easy to see why the Danes are being discussed as a potential Group D winner.
Head coach Kasper Hjulmand often deploys a 3-4-3 formation against strong opponents but switches to a more attack-minded 4-3-3 against weaker teams. He is adept at changing tactics during games, either through a switch of formation or substitutions.
Star player: Christian Eriksen
It’s hard to think of a player with a more compelling story in Qatar than Eriksen, who literally came back from the dead in June 2021 when he suffered a cardiac arrest four minutes before halftime in Denmark’s first match at the Euros.
The 30-year-old midfielder has shown incredible willpower to continue his career at the top level and is now at Manchester United after a successful six-month spell at Brentford.
A healthy Eriksen – with his crafty footwork, immaculate set-piece service and vision to unlock defenses – is definitely a key man for the Danes at the World Cup.
When Australia qualified for Germany 2006, it was just the second FIFA World Cup of its history – and its first in over 30 years. Now, with the Socceroos heading to the fifth consecutive global finals, people might imagine that this is being celebrated as the continuation of a golden era.
Australia got the berth after navigating a grueling 20-game qualifying slate that featured two group stages, a regional playoff and an intercontinental playoff.
Graham Arnold, a former Australia assistant and interim coach who has taken the full-time job since 2018, continues to lean on a number of veterans like Sunderland center-back Bailey Wright, Celtic defensive midfielder Aaron Mooy and Melbourne City attacker Mathew Leckie.
Star player: Ajdin Hrustic
The attacking midfielder was certainly the star of Australia’s qualifying campaign, scoring the winner in the AFC play-off victory over UAE, having previously found the net with a couple of stunning free-kicks along the way.
The 26-year-old playmaker played a big part in Eintracht Frankfurt’s route to win the UEFA Europa League last season and moved to Italian club Hellas Verona this summer.
The North African nation is yet to find its way past the group stage in five World Cup appearances. And it will be very hard for them to make a breakthrough in Qatar.
The Eagles of Carthage punched their ticket to Qatar by topping Mali 1-0 on aggregate in the final round of Africa’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
Star player: Ellyes Skhiri
This extraordinary box-to-box player is a vital defensive cog in the midfield. He has an uncanny ability to intercept and win second balls, as well as snuff-out attacks.
Offensively, he creates lots of chances with his long balls from his deep-lying position, which allows him to detect opportunities better than others. His lethal long shots are another string to his bow.