A look at the teams in Group C of the 2018 World Cup in Russia:
FIFA world ranking: 40
Last World Cup: 2014
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16, 2006
How qualified: Beat Honduras in interconfederation playoff
Key players: GK Mat Ryan, MF Mile Jedinak, MF Aaron Mooy
It’s a fact: Interim coach Bert van Marwijk took the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010 and guided Saudi Arabia through a successful qualifying campaign in 2017 before resigning in a contract dispute and accepting the Australia job.
The skinny: The World Cup remains an enigma for Australia, which seems to have little trouble qualifying but accomplishes little once it gets there. Russia will mark the fourth consecutive tournament visit for the Socceroos, who have managed only two victories in 13 games once there. The program is in transition, a fact underscored by the presence of Van Marwijk, who took over in January but will step down after Russia to be replaced by Graham Arnold.
FIFA world ranking: 12
Last World Cup: 2010
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals, 1998
How qualified: Beat Ireland in European playoff
Key players: GK Kasper Schmeichel, D Simon Kjaer, MF Christian Eriksen
It’s a fact: Denmark has scored 27 goals in four World Cup appearances, all from inside the penalty area.
The skinny: Denmark stands a good chance of getting out of group play for the first time since 2002, but it will need a big tournament from Tottenham playmaker Eriksen. It will also need to find a workable pairing at center back, where coach Age Hareide’s team remains unsettled. Momentum is clearly on Denmark’s side: It has climbed in the rankings from No. 46 less than two years ago.
FIFA world ranking: 7
Last World Cup: 2014
Best World Cup finish: Champion, 1998
How qualified: Won European qualifying group.
Key players: GK Hugo Lloris, MF Paul Pogba, F Antoine Griezmann
It’s a fact: France has won just three of its last 12 group-stage matches at the World Cup.
The skinny: Arguably the strongest French team since the 2006 squad, which lost the World Cup final on penalty kicks, coach Didier Deschamps’ team is loaded with attacking options. In the midfield he has Manchester United’s Pogba and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, and up front is Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud and Atletico Madrid’s Griezmann. Tottenham’s Lloris anchors the defense. Two years ago, that group led France to its first Euro final in 16 years.
FIFA world ranking: 11
Last World Cup: 1982
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals, 1970
How qualified: Beat New Zealand in interconfederation playoff
Key players: F Paolo Guerrero, MF Yoshimar Yotun, MF Renato Tapia
It’s a fact: Peru’s 36-year break between World Cup appearances is the longest of any team in the tournament.
The skinny: With the exception of World Cup debutantes Iceland and Panama, there is no team with as little experience on soccer’s biggest stage as Peru. Not only was no one on the roster alive the last time Peru played in the tournament, but even coach Ricardo Gareca has never been to a World Cup. And that figures to work against a team that is extremely close. But there is a way through to the second round. Peru’s success is a product of its consistency on defense which, over time, has given its attackers the confidence to push forward and if the South Americans can beat Australia and at least tie Denmark, they have a chance of advancing.
June 16: France vs. Australia, Kazan; Peru vs. Denmark, Saransk
June 21: Denmark vs. Australia, Samara; France vs. Peru, Ekaterinburg