World Cup preview: Everything you need to know about Group D

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With the 2022 World Cup just days away, we’re taking a deep dive into all eight groups, highlighting the star players to watch, examining the biggest storylines to follow, and offering some predictions for how things may play out. Here’s everything you need to know about Group D, which features France, Australia, Denmark, and Tunisia.

Group schedule ?

France ??

  • Manager: Didier Deschamps
  • Nickname: Les Bleus
  • FIFA ranking: 4
  • Best World Cup finish: Champion (1998, 2018)
  • Betting odds: +600

Player to watch

Kylian Mbappe. The reigning World Cup champion has by far the deepest talent pool on the planet. Even without injured midfield duo Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, the fulcrum of the triumphant team in Russia four years ago, France could realistically field multiple XIs capable of qualifying for the tournament. Picking just one standout is tough, but even on a team with Karim Benzema, the most recent Ballon d’Or winner, Mbappe shines brightest. There’s a ruthlessness about the 23-year-old now, a sense of inevitability that, at some point, he’s going to find the net every time he steps onto the pitch. There’s no such thing as stopping Mbappe. You can only hope to contain him.

Projected starting XI (4-3-1-2)

Lloris; L. Hernandez, Kimpembe, Varane, Pavard; Rabiot, Fofana, Tchouameni; Griezmann; Mbappe, Benzema

Deschamps, whose conservative tactics have always been at odds with the obscene collection of riches at his disposal, is at least trying to change. A bit, anyway. He moved to a 3-4-1-2 formation after winning the 2018 World Cup in an effort to accommodate as many of his talented attackers as possible, but that yielded inconsistent results. He vowed to use a 4-3-1-2 system at the World Cup when unveiling his injury-hit squad, where Antoine Griezmann can play in support of star forwards Mbappe and Benzema. But, at his core, Deschamps is a defensive manager who’ll likely revert to old ways when the chips are down. It’s worked for him, after all. The performance of a new-look midfield, anchored by 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni, will go a long way to determining if Les Bleus can retain the trophy.

Key question

Will France be dragged down by drama? Even when everything is going right, and the mood is upbeat, it’s exceedingly difficult to win consecutive World Cup titles – there’s a reason the feat hasn’t been accomplished since 1962. France, though, will attempt to do just that amid disruptive conditions that engulfed the team in the buildup to the tournament. Injury issues created a lack of continuity for Deschamps, while a bizarre witch doctor scandal and an image rights dispute between Mbappe and the French federation caused friction. We’re not exactly at 2010 levels when a mutinous squad under the watch of disliked manager Raymond Domenech capitulated in South Africa, but it’s not all kumbaya right now, either.

Elite talent can make the difference, though, no matter what else is going on. France has that in spades and then some. The World Cup winners in 2006 (Italy), 2010 (Spain), and 2014 (Germany) all followed up their triumphs by failing to get out of the group stage four years later, relinquishing their crown in humbling fashion. France is surely too good to suffer that same fate, right?

Australia ??

  • Manager: Graham Arnold
  • Nickname: Socceroos
  • FIFA ranking: 38
  • Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2006)
  • Betting odds: +25000

Player to watch

Ajdin Hrustic. Australia, heading to its fifth consecutive World Cup, lacks the marquee star of previous iterations. There’s no Tim Cahill-, Mark Viduka-, or Harry Kewell-like figure, for instance. But in Hrustic, manager Arnold does have an inventive midfielder who can provide the creative spark. The 26-year-old is one of the few players on the Australian roster plying his trade in one of Europe’s top leagues, but 2022 hasn’t been his best year. After struggling to garner consistent playing time at Eintracht Frankfurt, he moved to Serie A club Hellas Verona in September. Just when he appeared to be finding his rhythm, he sustained an ankle injury that is the cause of much concern going into the World Cup. For Australia to cause a shock, Hrustic needs to be operating at his very best.

Projected starting XI (4-1-4-1)

Ryan; Behich, Rowles, Souttar, Atkinson; Mooy; Leckie, Irvine, Hrustic, Boyle; Duke

Pragmatism is the name of the game for Arnold, who called on his team to rediscover its “Aussie DNA” ahead of the dramatic playoff victory over Peru that got the Socceroos to the World Cup. The defining trait of this unit is more intangible than tactical, with Arnold trying to instill a sense of team spirit where “you kick, you fight, you scratch, you run ’till you drop, and leave nothing on the park and have no regrets.” Physicality and a desire to outwork the opposition power a team aiming to get out and run on the counter.

Key question

How far can vibes carry a World Cup team? Arnold and his staff will devise in-depth tactical strategies going into each match, of course. But the manager said it himself: For Australia to be successful, team unity and sheer effort are paramount. Australia, looking to win a World Cup game for the first time since 2010, needs to grind out results in Qatar. That was evident in the playoff win over Peru, a tense slog that featured just three total shots on target over 120 minutes before Andrew Redmayne, the seldom-used backup goalkeeper, danced his way into the hearts and minds of football fans.

That euphoric moment was five months ago but still feels fresh. If the Socceroos can channel some of that – and Arnold will surely try – perhaps a memorable result this winter isn’t so farfetched?

Denmark ??

  • Manager: Kasper Hjulmand
  • Nickname: De Rod-Hvide
  • FIFA ranking: 10
  • Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1998)
  • Betting odds: +2800

Player to watch

Christian Eriksen. Already the focal point of the Danish team from a tactical perspective, Eriksen became the inspirational leader, too, after his galvanizing return from the cardiac arrest he suffered at Euro 2020. The midfielder, quite literally, came back from the dead to not only play again but shine at the highest level in the Premier League. The 30-year-old, an astute passer who can dictate the tempo and also score goals in his more advanced role with the national team, is the chief creator for Hjulmand. Eriksen was the best player on the pitch in Denmark’s 2-0 Nations League win over France in September, showing off his ability to orchestrate play and open up the opposing defense with line-breaking passes.

Projected starting XI (3-4-2-1)

Schmeichel; Andersen, Christensen, Kjaer; Maehle, Delaney, Hojbjerg, Skov Olsen; Eriksen, Damsgaard; Dolberg

Malleability is a crucial part of Denmark’s success under Hjulmand. The meticulous manager can seamlessly switch between two base formations, each with intricate wrinkles. The 50-year-old’s preferred system, a 3-4-3 with surging wing-backs, can oftentimes look like a 3-4-2-1 with attackers tucked inside behind a center-forward. Denmark will also utilize a 4-3-3 shape at times that can develop into a 4-2-3-1 with Eriksen pushed up into a No. 10 role, where he has more chances to show off his shooting ability. This fluid approach helped drive the team to the semifinals of Euro 2020. Regardless of the system on any given day, though, Denmark will aim to apply high pressure and force the opposition into mistakes that can quickly and efficiently be turned into scoring chances.

Key question

What will Denmark do for an encore? The rousing run to the semifinals of Euro 2020 was no fluke. Eriksen’s harrowing collapse undoubtedly brought the team closer together – how could it not? – but Denmark’s success wasn’t simply a team riding an emotional wave. The Danes, diligent and balanced, got there on merit. With a little more luck, they could have made the final and potentially won the entire tournament.

“We have great self-confidence going into the World Cup,” Mikkel Damsgaard, a breakout star at the Euros, said. “We will make some noise. We aim to go far and hopefully win the whole damn thing.” Even though not all players are entering the tournament in prime condition – Damsgaard included – Denmark has the tools to do exactly that. It’s time we start viewing Hjulmand’s side through that lens.

Tunisia ??

  • Manager: Jalel Kadri
  • Nickname: Eagles of Carthage
  • FIFA ranking: 30
  • Best World Cup finish: Group stage (five times)
  • Betting odds: +35000

Player to watch

Youssef Msakni. With all due respect to Wahbi Khazri, who will again be a vital contributor, Tunisia’s most gifted player is its veteran captain Msakni. Outside of a brief loan spell in Belgium, the 32-year-old winger has spent the last decade plying his trade in Qatar. Rumors of a transfer to Europe have long swirled throughout his career, but for one reason or another, a deal never actually materialized. The time for that move may have passed, which makes the World Cup even more important for Msakni. After missing the competition four years ago due to a knee injury, this likely represents the last chance for the skilled attacker to showcase his talents on a global stage.

Projected starting XI (4-3-3)

Dahmen; Abdi, Bronn, Talbi, Drager; Sassi, Skhiri, Laidouni; Khazri, Msakni, Ben Slimane

Not dissimilar from other teams heading to Qatar, Tunisia made a managerial change in January, replacing Mondher Kebaier with Kadri. The new bench boss clearly isn’t overawed by the task ahead of him this winter. “If we do not reach the knockout phase, I will leave,” the 50-year-old boldly proclaimed leading up to the tournament. “I have a contract based on results, and being eliminated from the group stage will be a failure for me.” His confidence isn’t totally misplaced. Before the 5-1 loss against Brazil in a September friendly, Tunisia went seven matches without conceding a goal, including wins over Chile and Japan. A solid backline is key to the team’s success. Kadri, who typically utilizes a 4-3-3 base system, could opt for a more defensive approach against France and Denmark.

Key question

Just how representative was September’s 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Brazil in a pre-tournament friendly? On one hand, it was Tunisia’s first defeat under Kadri, and the Eagles of Carthage were forced to play with 10 men for roughly 50 minutes of that contest at the Parc des Princes. On the other, they were already down 4-1 by the time Dylan Bronn was shown a red card, so it wasn’t exactly the game-changing event as Tunisia was already outclassed. “We respected Brazil too much,” Kadri explained afterward. “We were by no means unworthy in the second half, but we were completely overwhelmed at the start of the match.”

That could either be an important lesson that the team takes to heart or a harbinger of things to come against France – one of the tournament favorites that boasts the same type of attacking talent as Brazil – and Denmark, which provides the opposition for Tunisia’s first game on Nov. 22.

Predictions ?

Few other groups in the tournament have such a clearly defined top pairing. Opta views France and Denmark as overwhelming favorites to reach the round of 16, giving the reigning champion an 87.9% chance of advancing. The Danes, meanwhile, should have little trouble making good on their billing as one of the dark horses at the tournament. As the Nations League meetings with Les Bleus showed, we shouldn’t discount Denmark to win the group, either.

  1. France
  2. Denmark
  3. Tunisia
  4. Australia
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