France look like running away with this one. They seem to be on an entirely different level to the other three sides, none of whom are particularly exciting or gifted outfits.
Being truthful, it’s hard to know how Peru will fare, despite the fact they’ve occasionally played some pretty patterns in qualifying. Australia are decidedly average and Denmark are limited aside from Christian Eriksen and Pione Sisto.
The Danes are a gritty, efficient team, but don’t offer much in the way of flamboyance. Still, they should go through in second place, given the weakness of the Aussies and Peruvians. It’s hard to imagine they’ll go very far in the tournament though.
Didier Deschamps’ France, however, are in with a real shout of lifting the trophy. The main thing for them will be to avoid another in-tournament meltdown or players’ strike – with no Patrice Evra or Nicolas Anelka in the squad, that should be pretty achievable. If things go well off the pitch, there’s no reason for France not to think about the semi-finals or better.
Predicted finishing order
1. France, 2. Denmark, 3. Peru, 4. Australia
Possibly the only real ‘group of death’ in the 2018 edition, it’s difficult to know who will come out of this one.
Even with Messi, Argentina are no great shakes and qualified by the skin of their teeth. Their squad looks exceptionally top-heavy, with a richly talented attacking unit playing in front of a mediocre midfield and a fairly weak defence. Still, where there’s Messi (and Aguero) there’s hope.
Croatia are a powerful side. Their midfield is excellent, with Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic likely to dominate in the group. At the back, they are solid enough to thrive in international football, while up front they have some hard-nosed operators like Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. All things considered, they’re a good bet to qualify for the next stage.
Arguably, Nigeria are Africa’s strongest team, and have been unlucky to be landed in a tough group. At the back they don’t have many big names, but the midfield and forward units contain some more than decent players. This is a side that shouldn’t be underestimated – they’re in with a good chance of making it out of ‘D’. They also boast the finest kit in the tournament.
Theoretically the worst team of the four, Iceland can’t be written off. Their squad looks a little threadbare in comparison to the other three, but as they’ve shown in the past, they’re capable of adding up to more than the sum of their parts.
Predicted finishing order
1. Croatia, 2. Argentina, 3. Nigeria, 4. Iceland