Group D of the FIFA World Cup 2022 is the stage for the holders, France, to begin their defence, and they will face a range of challenges.
Many people will have Denmark down as dark horses, while Tunisia and Australia will set up to frustrate and hope to shock the favourites.
Defending champions France will be hoping to make light work of their group and put a disappointing Euro 2020 campaign behind them.
Didier Deschamps has a plethora of star-studded attacking options available to him, headlined by the likes of Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappé, and Antoine Griezmann.
The biggest problem potentially dampening French hope will be key injuries in midfield and defence.
With N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba – starters in the 2018 World Cup final – both ruled out through injury, Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot will likely deputise in central midfield.
Meanwhile, Raphael Varane, Lucas Hernandez, and Joules Kounde are concerns at the heart of defence with Deschamps likely to shift from a back three to a back four.
Star Player: Karim Benzema – The Real Madrid striker and current Ballon d’Or holder has scored 10 goals in 16 games since being recalled to the national team in 2021.
His hold-up play and goalscoring capabilities will be vital should France reach the latter stages of the tournament.
The Socceroos have qualified for their fifth consecutive World Cup and head to Qatar 2022 after a dramatic 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Peru.
Despite this impressive track record, the Aussies will have the odds stacked against them if they are to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2006.
Stalwarts Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine – who feature at club level for Celtic and St. Pauli – will provide some much-needed experience in the middle of the park.
But a lack of game time for key centre-back pairing Harry Soutar and Kye Rowles alongside questions over manager Graham Arnold – who was almost sacked during qualification – may prove obstacles too steep for this Australian side to overcome against the tough opposition in Group D.
Star Player: Garang Kuol – The 18-year-old striker has made just one substitute appearance for the national side but has the potential to make this tournament his breakout moment on the global stage.
Fans of the national team will hope the youngster can continue the impressive domestic he showed at Central Coast Mariners which earnt him a move to Newcastle United.
The Danes will be tipped to be a safe second in this group behind France, but Kasper Hjulmand’s side did beat Les Bleus home and away in the last edition of the Nations League, so they may be in for early success.
After an unforgettable Euro 2020, punctuated by Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest before a run to the semi-final, the squad looks much the same this time around.
Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen, injured in 2021, will further strengthen the strong defence on which Denmark will build their game, flexibly switching between a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3.
The weakness is up-front. None of Andreas Cornelius, Yussuf Poulsen, Kasper Dolberg, Martin Braithwaite, or Jonas Wind have seized the starting berth, giving Hjulmand a dilemma ahead of the tournament.
Star Player: Christian Eriksen – Following a remarkable recovery in the last 18 months, Eriksen is already back to his best for Manchester United, and will make things tick for Denmark alongside one or two more destructive midfielders.
It’s easy to rule out Tunisia, but their low-block, counter-attacking style should make them no pushover.
They qualified for the tournament through a knockout victory over Mali; one of the easier routes for an African side – see Senegal v Egypt.
But this follows an African Cup of Nations campaign last year which saw them knock-out a much-fancied Nigeria side at the Round-of-16.
Regardless, for British viewers there will be names on Tunisian shirts to peak interest.
Former-Sunderland forward Wabhi Khazri has returned from a spell out the squad, and may feature up front, and Birmingham City’s Hannibal Mejbri, on loan from Manchester United, should be busy in midfield.
Star Player: Youssef Msakni – The 32-year-old will be participating in his first World Cup after an injury kept him out last time, and hoping to shine from the left-wing.
Despite not being a household name in Europe, Jalel Kadri’s captain has enjoyed a superb career in the Tunisian and Qatari domestic leagues.
You can find the rest of South West Londoner’s FIFA World Cup coverage here.
Featured image credit: Courtesy of FIFA YouTube channel