Australia was moments away from a potential embarrassment of failing to qualify for the World Cup. It needed a Tim Cahill goal at the final moments of their match with Syria to help Australia clinch 3rd place in their group and be eligible for a playoff game with Honduras. Only after defeating Honduras did Australia qualify. This is perhaps the weakest Australian team in recent times and there is still an over-reliance on their legendary goal-scorer Tim Cahill, who is now 38. With some tough teams in their group, the Socceroos may well be fighting not to finish last.
Qualification Form- Third in Asian Group B (round three) behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, then playoff wins against Syria and Honduras
Watch out for: Tim Cahill- Serving his country in yet another World Cup, the former Everton forward will look to make his last World Cup memorable. Don’t rule out this goal poacher scoring a goal or two.
The nation who could spring the biggest surprise is also the team who has the habit of doing it at big tournaments. Remember Euro 1992, where the unfancied Danes won the competition and hearts of millions of football fans around the globe? With their talismanic midfielder Christian Eriksen reaching a Michael Laudrup-level of play, scoring 11 goals in 12 matches, the Danes look impressive and poised to create a few problems for the big boys.
Denmark will look to continue their direct style of play which reaped rewards during a successful qualifying campaign an approach that suited the box-to-box midfielder Thomas Delaney, who was the second-highest scorer for Denmark in qualifying. Up front Nicolai Jorgensen, Andreas Cornelius and Nicklas Bendtner fight for one place, while in central defense Brentford’s Andreas Bjelland and the captain Simon Kjær are picked with Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen also an option in that position.
History- 1998 World Cup quarterfinalist
Current Form- Finished second in their qualification group, winning 6, drawing 2, losing 2.
Watch out for: Christian Eriksen- The supremely talented creative midfielder can provide some moments of magic for this World Cup. Both adept at creating and scoring goals, all of Denmark’s opponents will look to stop this man from dominating the midfield.
One of the favourites to lift the World Cup this year, France will look to put the disappointment of their Euro 2016 Final loss to Portugal behind them and look forward to doing some real damage to other teams with their star-studded line-up. With the amazing wealth of talent at their disposal, France can easily field two separate teams for their matches and still perform at an amazingly high level. Their only weakness could be complacency.
History- 1998 Champions.
Qualification Form- Won 7 drew 2 lost 1
Watch out for- Practically the whole squad. To name at least two Antione Greizmann and Paul Pogba could well be the stars of this World Cup.
Peru is back at the World Cup after a long wait of 36 years. The basis of their success? A disciplined approach to their game built mainly around short passes and possession. The team is well settled and well-drilled with Yoshimar Yotun running the midfield and the creative force added by Jefferson Farfan upfront. The unfortunate absence of Paolo Guerrero will be a big blow for the Peruvians as he was a leader as much as a talismanic striker but Peru will hope that their well-disciplined team game will shine through in the end.
Qualification Form Fifth in South American section, then play-off win over New Zealand.
Watch out for- Jefferson Farfan- In the absence of Paolo Guerrero, the talented winger Farfan will have to take extra responsibility in attack and look to score goals and provide a creative spark at the same time.