World Cup Group D guide: France are favourites to progress but Christian Eriksen may inspire Denmark – Daily Mail

By Max Mathews For Mailonline



The World Cup countdown continues and now it really feels like the Qatar showpiece is within touching distance.
The first ever winter edition of the tournament gets underway on November 21, interrupting the domestic campaign to do so, with the final taking place under a month later on December 18.
The group stage draw has come and gone, with eight sets of four teams set to compete in Qatar in the final time we’ll see a 32-team format at the World Cup, with a 48-team format set to be introduced in 2026.
In Group D, competition holders France will look to put the Paul Pogba-Kylian Mbappe ‘witchcraft’ scandal behind them amid a troubled history of players acting up in major tournaments.
Denmark hope to draw inspiration from Christian Eriksen, who suffered a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 but recovered, earnt himself a move to Manchester United this summer and inspired his side to a Nations League win over France in September.
For Australia and Tunisia, meanwhile, they come into the tournament with nothing to lose and are aiming to take a big scalp along the way. 
Below, Sportsmail‘s Max Mathews takes you through Group D, including how each team qualified for the tournament, their history in the competition and who to look out for.
France are one of the favourites to win the World Cup again, despite their current problems 
France and Denmark, who contested a Nations League match in September, will clash again
Who’s the manager?
Graham Arnold – A stalwart of the Australian game, the former Sydney FC coach returned for a second stint in the top job in March 2018, having led the national team for a year after Guus Hiddink stepped down after the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
He succeeded Dutchman Bert van Marwijk, who took the reins for the 2018 World Cup in Russia as part of a short-term deal struck in the wake of Ange Postecoglou’s shock resignation after securing the team’s qualification.
Replaced as head coach by another Dutchman in Pim Verbeek in 2007, Arnold remained on board as an assistant through Australia’s next World Cup qualification phase and their appearance at the 2010 finals in South Africa.
Arnold, who scored 19 goals in 56 appearances for the Socceroos in the 1980s and 90s, then kicked off a hugely successful coaching career at club level, turning the underdog Central Coast Mariners into A-League champions in 2012-13.
He became the league’s first coach to claim championships at different clubs when he led Sydney to their third title last year after winning a record number of games during the regular season.
Australia boss Graham Arnold (centre) will be looking to take a few scalps in the group stage
Who’s the star man?
Mathew Ryan – It is not very often a goalkeeper has the title of being a nation’s best player but Ryan’s influence on the Socceroos is enormous.
Crucially, he has played at both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, so knows the sort of pressure and challenges that his team-mates will be facing in Qatar later this year.
Ryan is his nation’s captain and one of few players in the squad to play at the Premier League level. He made over 100 appearances for Brighton in four years at the Amex before joining Arsenal briefly on loan.
The 30-year-old, who played 90 minutes in every qualifier except two, left Real Sociedad this summer for Danish Superliga champions FC Copenhagen in search of first-team football.
Former Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan (pictured ) will be a key player for the Socceroos
Ryan could play against club team-mates Nicolai Boilesen, Mohamed Daramy and Andreas Cornelius when the Socceroos face Denmark in the final and potentially decisive group game on November 30. 
Attacking midfielder Ajdin Hrustic, who moved from Eintracht Frankfurt to Verona this summer after winning the Europa League with the German side, is a key player going forward too. 
How did they qualify?
Entering the Asian Football Confederation qualifying at the second round, Australia coasted through that stage. They won all eight of their group matches, seeing off Kuwait, Jordan, Nepal and Chinese Taipei.
However, they were unable to maintain that form in the third round of qualifying and finished third in their group behind Saudi Arabia and Japan. From their 10 group games, Australia picked up 15 points.
That meant they had to enter the nerve-shredding inter-confederation play-offs where they played third place in the other group, the United Arab Emirates.
A 2-1 win over the UAE took them to within 90 minutes of a World Cup spot. All they had to do was beat Peru.
Goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne was the Socceroos’ hero, saving Alex Valera’s spot-kick to clinch a 5-4 victory for his side after being introduced as a substitute at the end of a goalless 120 minutes in Al Rayyan.
Australia’s Martin Boyle saw his opening penalty saved, but Peru’s Luis Advincula hit a post with his and, with the other nine all converted, Redmayne’s save from Valera’s effort proved decisive.
Australia face a tough assignment first up against France on November 22, with a four-day turnaround before facing Tunisia.
Arnold’s side complete their group games against Denmark on November 30, with all three clashes taking place in Al-Wakrah on the eastern tip of the country.
Tournament history
Between 1930 and 1962, Australia were not a member of FIFA, and they did not qualify for the World Cup in 1966 and 1970. After reaching the group stage for the first time in 1974, they did not qualify again until 2006.
At the Germany World Cup, they beat Japan and drew against Croatia to progress to the last 16, where they faced eventual winners Italy. The Azzurri eventually went through courtesy of a heart-breaking 95th minute penalty from Francesco Totti. 
In the following three tournaments, the Socceroos have exited at the group stage. Given that record, making the last 16 would be a success.
Odds of winning the trophy: 250-1
Who’s the manager?
Kasper Hjulmand – It felt like the Danes’ inspirational coach became the unofficial leader of the country last year when Christian Eriksen suffered his shocking cardiac arrest in their Euro 2020 clash with Finland.
It felt like Danish coach Kasper Hjulmand became the unofficial leader of the country last year
Hjulmand led with such authority and strength during that horrific period and then had the ability to dust his team down and lead them to the semi-finals on a wave of emotion – where they lost against England following a controversial penalty.
Hjulmand’s playing career ended when he was just 26 after nine knee operations but he was soon making a name for himself on the touchline and now he’s wanted by a string of top clubs around Europe.
Who’s the star man?
Christian Eriksen – It might be the obvious answer to say Eriksen, given the way he has recovered from that awful day last summer and is back playing and scoring in the Premier League for Manchester United and for his national team.
But he is a unique talent for the Danes, a playmaker, set-piece taker and the creative and emotional heartbeat of the team.
Elsewhere, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – like at Tottenham – is an unsung hero, doing the dirty, gruelling work in midfield that allows the more creative players around him to flourish.
Man United midfielder Christian Eriksen is set-piece taker and creative heartbeat of the side
How did they qualify?
Denmark were run close by Scotland in Group F but always kept Steve Clarke’s side at arm’s length and secured top spot with nine wins from 10, 30 goals scored and just three conceded.
Their qualifying campaign included an 8-0 demolition of Moldova in Herning, while a 4-0 win away in Austria was the pick of their results. Scotland got the better of them at Hampden in November, but that was the only blip.
Denmark will be looking to get off to a good start with a winnable-looking game against Tunisia in Al-Rayyan on November 22 kicking off the group.
They meet France on the 26th in Doha before what they hope will be the match to seal qualification against Australia in Al-Wakrah on November 30.
Tournament history
Denmark have an up-and-down history at the World Cup, reaching the knockout stages of four of the five tournaments they have qualified for, but missing out completely in 1990, 1994, 2006, and 2014.
Three round-of-16 finishes – and a quarter-final in 1998 – are the best Denmark have mustered, although they won the Euros in 1992. A potential dark horse.
Odds of winning the trophy: 28-1 
It took a controversial Harry Kane extra-time penalty for England to beat Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-final – Hjulmand’s talented side are a potential dark horse for the Qatar tournament
Who’s the manager?
Didier Deschamps – The 53-year-old has seen it all in international management having been in charge of Les Bleus since 2012. 
He has scaled the heights of World Cup glory before and will be confident of defending their title with a squad littered with stars at his disposal.
France went into Euro 2020 as world champions but Deschamps and his tactics came in for huge criticism when they were stunned by Switzerland on penalties in the last 16. 
He managed to keep his job but you’d think it will be curtains if they don’t reach at least the semi-finals in Qatar, given the talent available to him.
Who’s the star man?
Kylian Mbappe – If there was any doubt then Mbappe has proven himself to the main man for France in recent months. His stunning record of 10 goals in nine games for PSG this season shows the confidence running through his veins.
In-form Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe is the star man for favourites France
The superstar also loves a major tournament and has chalked up four goals and three assists in 11 tournament appearances. It is also a boost for Mbappe to have Karim Benzema supporting him in attack, as he did at Euro 2020.
Aurelien Tchouameni looks increasingly influential in midfield and Benzema is in red-hot form for Real Madrid right now, but for sheer star quality and his ability to strike fear into the hearts of opposition defenders, it has to be Mbappe. 
How did they qualify?
France were comfortable qualifiers in the end but they didn’t have it all their own way. The finished top of their group unbeaten, with 18 points after five wins and three draws.
But Ukraine were only six points behind in second place and they claimed two impressive draws in their pair of games with the French. Deschamps’ side also drew at home against Bosnia and Herzegovina. 
Didier Deschamps’ side – the current holders – are among the top bets to win the competition
Deschamps’ men play Australia in Al-Wakrah on November 22, before a tricky clash against Denmark in Doha four days later – against the side that beat them 2-0 in the Nations League in their final competitive match before the tournament.
They finish with a game against group minnows Tunisia in Al-Rayyan on the 30th. Like Denmark, all of their group matches are at different stadiums.
Tournament history
In the first 56 years of the competition, coming third at Sweden 1958 and fourth and third-placed finishes in 1982 and 1986, respectively, were the closest Les Bleus had come. Then they failed to qualify in 1990 and 1994.
A glorious home triumph in 1998 with a generational, diverse team, helped unite a divided country, and while they lost on penalties in 2006 against Italy – the Zinedine Zidane head-butt game – they are almost always in and around the latter stages.
Probably the favourite for the entire tournament. 
Odds of winning the trophy: 6-1
Les Bleus will need to put aside a potential rift between Paul Pogba (left) and Kylian Mbappe (right) if they are to win – Pogba is accused of hiring a ‘witch doctor’ to cast spells on Mbappe
Who’s the manager?
Jalel Kadri – Tunisia currently have Kadri in charge of the national team, with Mondher Kebaier replaced after the Africa Cup of Nations a few months ago as he battled Covid-19. Kebaier joined Moroccan club Raja Athletic on September 24.
Kadri – who was Kebaier’s assistant manager – is Tunisia’s fourth coach since Nabil Maaloul was in charge at the 2018 World Cup, when they, of course, lost to England in the dying stages of their opening group game.
Who’s the star man?
Ellyes Skhiri – The Cologne midfielder was named Tunisian Footballer of the Year in 2021 and has received 47 caps since making his debut in 2018, scoring three goals.
Also watch out for former Sunderland forward Wahbi Khazri – currently at Montpellier – as a creative hub, and Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri, who has already been awarded 17 caps at the tender age of 19.
Cologne midfielder Ellyes Skhiri (above) is a key creative hub for Group D minnows Tunisia
How did they qualify?
Having finished top of Group B in the second round of African qualifying, two points clear of Equatorial Guinea, Tunisia faced Mali in a two-legged play-off in the past week for a place in Qatar.
Having won the first-leg in Mali 1-0 courtesy of an own goal by Moussa Sissako, a goalless draw in Tunis was enough for unfancied Tunisia to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup. 
Tunisia contest the first game of the group against Denmark in Al-Rayyan on the 22nd, then facing the Socceroos in Al-Wakrah in their second tie.
They then return to the site of their first game with a tough-looking final match against France on November 30. 
Tournament history
Tunisia have a modest history at the World Cup, being part of France until the 1958 tournament, with a combination of failing to enter, failing to qualify and withdrawing entirely meaning their first tournament was in 1978, in Argentina.
That year marked their best ever return, with a win, a draw and a loss from their three group stage matches.
In the subsequent years they have qualified – 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2018, four of the last six tournaments – they have drawn once and been beaten twice. They look unlikely to reach the knockout stages in Qatar. 
Odds of winning the trophy: 350-1
Tunisia were thrashed 5-1 by Brazil in their last game and it looks tough to get out of the group
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group


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