One of the favourites to lift the FIFA World Cup trophy, France, kick off their campaign in a group that could scarcely be any easier.
Denmark, Australia and Peru are not exactly the kind of opponents to keep you up at night; especially when you could have drawn England, Belgium or Portugal at this stage of the competition.
The French have a squad jam-packed with quality, and after getting mighty close to a major trophy having lost in the final of their own European Championships in 2016, they will be looking to go one better in Russia.
There’s not a great deal to get excited about as far as the other three sides in the group are concerned, and so really the only question here is who will join France in the last 16.
France – Group Winner Odds: 4/9
Head Coach: Didier Deschamps
Key Man: Antoine Griezmann
If France can get their act together, they really should be looking to go deep into the business end of the tournament.
On paper, they are solid at the back – Hugo Lloris in the sticks behind the likes of Varane, Umtiti and Mendy. In midfield, you can perm three from Pogba, Matuidi, Kante, Lemar and Tolisso. In attack, a front three of Griezmann, Fekir and Mbappe rather gets the juices flowing, with Olivier Giroud available as a battering ram of a plan B.
This is a young France squad, by and large, but you suspect that their time is now. They can take the lessons learnt at Euro 2016, and look to extend a fine record in World Cups played on European soil: they were runners-up in Germany in 2006, won on home soil in 1998 and reached the semi-finals in Spain back in 1982.
It would beggar belief if they were not to pick up a minimum of seven points from their trio of group outings.
Denmark – Group Winner Odds: 5/1
Head Coach: Age Hareide
Key Man: Christian Eriksen
Denmark needed the play-offs to book their spot in Russia after losing out to Poland in their qualification group, but the Danes really came to the party by hammering the Republic of Ireland 5-1 on aggregate.
The pressure on Christian Eriksen to deliver for his country will be immense. The Spurs man scored eight of their twenty goals in qualifying, and alarmingly a large number of those were strikes from outside of the box. The Danes’ inability to fashion goalscoring chances – their first-choice frontmen, Andreas Cornelius and Yussuf Poulsen, managed just three between them – really could undermine their hopes in Russia.
Since winning Euro ’92, Denmark have a rather forgettable record in major tournaments; failing to get out of the group in five of their last seven World Cup and European Championship appearances. If they are to improve upon that sorry record, Eriksen will need to produce the performances of a lifetime.
Peru – Group Winner Odds: 12/1
Head Coach: Ricardo Gareca
Key Man: Paolo Guerrero
There are some teams playing in the World Cup that we simply have to hold our hands up and say we know little about, and Peru falls into that category.
They have been in the headlines lately, however, with their captain, Paolo Guerrero, cleared to play after having a ban for cocaine use overturned.
The Peruvians will need their record goalscorer to have any chance of reaching the last 16, but stranger things have happened than a well-drilled South American outfit causing an upset or two on the biggest stage.
Don’t forget, they beat some useful sides in qualifying, like Uruguay, and while they needed a play-off to qualify for Russia getting through a stage which also contains the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile deserves praise.
What will be of concern is that they failed to score away from home in four outings against the teams that finished above them, and given the distance and differing conditions it would be fair to say that Russia will prove to be the mother of all away venues for the Peruvians.
Looking at their squad, you would be inclined to argue that they lack the quality to really test the resolve of France et al here.
Australia – Group Winner Odds: 22/1
Head Coach: Bert van Marwijk
Key Man: Aaron Mooy
The Aussies are known for their fighting qualities, and they will need to show those and then some to progress from Group C.
They appear to be lacking in quality, and certainly are shy of a striker who can be relied upon to regularly put the ball in the back of the neck.
A midfield trio of Aaron Mooy, Mile Jedinak and Jackson Irvine is competitive, that’s for sure, but you suspect that Brighton keeper Mathew Ryan will have his work cut out in keeping the Socceroos in the competition.