These previews will be as free from well-trodden ‘narratives’ as is possible. There are a plethora of other ones out there – some well-informed, some… not so much. I have opted for brevity over bells and whistles, but I still think they provide a fresh take on the most highly anticipated tournament.
Head Coach: Didier Deschamps
Odds to Win: 6-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: The full-backs will push up the pitch to support Les Bleus’ inside forwards. France will press in midfield areas and the solidity offered behind Paul Pogba in a 4-3-3 should give the talisman licence to get close to the front three without worrying too much about his defensive duties. In games where they don’t have the lion’s share of possession, Steven Nzonzi might be a preferred option. He has both the aerial ability and the guile to screen the back four effectively. Kylian Mbappé will offer much more than blistering pace on the right and is a good tip to be top goalscorer. He and Antoine Griezmann can transition quickly from sticking close to the target man to darting off into the half-space to provide crosses. If the combination isn’t working, there are plenty of exciting players to call upon, not least of which is Nabil Fekir His positional flexibility provides Deschamps with a dynamic, game-changing option.
Prediction: They should qualify from the group reasonably comfortably, but I’d be lying if I said I had the same confidence in the team as most other pundits to reach the final. There is a distinct lack of leadership on the roster, both full-backs are labouring to full fitness after lengthy injury spells and Pogba’s presence can almost as often be a liability as it is an asset.
Head Coach: Bert van Marwijk
Odds to Win: 1,000-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: Matthew Ryan is a key component of the Socceroos’ squad. His calming presence in goal gives the back four the confidence they need to push up when in possession. The double pivot in midfield will be essential in preventing the team from being overrun. Aaron Mooy dictates the play whilst captain Mile Jedinak covers a lot of ground, especially on the right flank. Much of the goal threat will come from Tom Rogic. The Celtic schemer will be handed a free role by van Marwijk and he will look to make peeling runs off the sole striker to be an extra body in the box.
Prediction: Their path to these finals was a very rocky one. Having guided Saudi Arabia reasonably comfortably, the head coach jumped ship and faces an uphill task to get Australia out of the group. Their recent warm-up friendlies have given some cause for optimism and they will need to be ultra-disciplined to best Denmark and Peru. I think they’ll finish bottom but not without bloodying a few noses.
Head Coach: Ricardo Gareca
Odds to Win: 200-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: Captain Paolo Guerrero’s drug ban has been overturned, so he will lead the line ahead of an exciting trio. The vastly experienced Jefferson Farfán will offer supporting runs on the right; in the middle, Christian Cueva will roam about in an effort to dictate the tempo. On the left, Edison Flores has been the difference maker under Gareca’s stewardship and will weigh in with some goals of his own. Both full-backs are dangerous in a side full of technical ability.
Prediction: There’s little to split them and Denmark on paper, so the onus is on both teams to go full-pelt for the three points, with a high likelihood that a victory will hand them second. Guerrero’s presence will be a massive filip to the entire group and there’s every chance that they can escape the group.
Head Coach: Åge Hareide
Odds to Win: 100-1
Tactics & Players to Watch: Another setup where the full-backs are key in supporting the wide men. The holding midfielders will sit in to allow Christian Eriksen to run riot. Much of the emphasis and expectation will be on his shoulders and he’s much more prominent in front of goal for his national side. Pione Sisto has electric pace and a bright future ahead of him. Here, he will be tuck in behind Nicolai Jørgensen; the striker possesses a similar physique to Yussuf Poulsen on the right and they will administer a stern examination of all three sides’ defences they will face in the group stages.
Prediction: There is a lack of depth in the full-back areas but they look very difficult to penetrate in the centre. Whether Eriksen will have as much space to work in is questionable and he might feel the pressure to perform. As I said above, it’s hard to call for second place but I’m leaning towards Peru, as they look to have goals from more areas of the pitch. Time will tell.