Can Australia Really Progress to the Knock-out Stage?

Australia have qualified for Russia 2018, with this edition of the World Cup being the fourth consecutive time they’ve made the grade. While fans will be hoping once again that the Socceroos can make it out of the Group stage, it will be a very difficult task. Drawn in Group C alongside France, Peru, and Denmark, Australia aren’t expected to make it to the next stage of the competition.

Saying that, however, Australia have landed in a fairly open group, with France expected to make it through and the three other teams all in with a fighting chance.

Australia vs France

Australia’s first game is against France at the Kazan Arena, Kazan on 16 June. Kick-off is at the very reasonable time of 8:00PM AEST, with full live coverage on SBS and Optus Sport. France are the big favourites to top Group C, and could make it through without dropping any points.

Even though France have failed to meet expectations over the last few years, they will go into Russia 2018 as one of the favourites. Their recent tournament form is fairly good, losing to Germany in the quarter-finals of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, and losing to Portugal in the Final of the 2016 European Championships. Some people think this is their year, and at the very least, they should face no difficulty getting out of the Group stage.

Coach Didier Deschamps has turned France into a highly competitive if slightly inconsistent team. They have an explosive attack in Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé, and Ousmane Dembélé, and a highly talented midfield in Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté. While the current Australian team is young and hungry, this attacking line-up will be a very difficult test. If France are lacking anywhere on the park, it’s in defence, with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane often found isolated and needing help.

If the Socceroos can win the midfield battle against France just some of the time, they may be able to cause some problems. Saying that, however, France’s lightning quick counter-attack will be a huge challenge for the Aussies. When they work together, this French team are highly skilled and very exciting to watch. They have beaten World Cup winners Germany twice recently, and should have no difficulty beating Australia.

Australia vs Denmark

Australia plays Denmark on 21 June at Cosmos Arena, Samara. Kick-off is at 10.00PM AEST, and once again, full coverage is on SBS and Optus Sport. Along with France, Denmark will be the favourites to make it out of the group, with this side recently coming off two great victories against Poland 4-0 and the Republic of Ireland 5-1 to finish off a fantastic qualifying campaign.

Denmark are a well organised team with momentum on their side. Coach Age Hareide has them playing consistently well, with this team being unbeaten in 11 games since October 2016. Tottenham star Christian Eriksen has been a big part of their success, scoring 11 goals in eight games during qualification.

Other key players in the Denmark squad include midfielder Thomas Delaney, defender Andreas Bjelland, and captain Simon Kjær. While the young and optimistic Australian side could beat Denmark on a good day, even a draw would be seen as a positive result.

Australia vs Peru

The Socceroos take on Peru on 27 June in their last group clash, with kick-off at midnight AEST from Fisht Stadium, Sochi. This is Australia’s best chance of success, with Peru only just making it into the World Cup by snagging South America’s fifth qualifying spot over Chile, Ecuador, and Paraguay. Peru haven’t been to a World Cup for 36 years, however, so they will be hungry and ready to go.

A lot of Peru’s success can be put down to coach Ricardo Gareca, who has brought in new players and introduced a traditional style of football based on possession and movement. Players to watch out for include Raul Ruidiaz, Andy Polo, Yoshimar Yotún, and Pedro Aquino. Defender Luis Advincula will be hard for the Socceroos to break down, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese also a quality talent.

If the Socceroos are going to test Peru, they will have to win the midfield battle and reduce their goal scoring chances. Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic will be important in this task, as will Mile Jedinak. Australia struggled to create real goal scoring opportunities during qualifying. This will have to change if they want to beat teams like Peru and Denmark. Above all else, it was a lack of quality finishes which hurt the Socceroos during qualifying.

Can Australia progress?

While Australia could conceivably beat Peru and possibly beat Denmark, they are unlikely to trouble France. While the Socceroos have drawn a fairly friendly group in Russia 2018, based on FIFA world rankings, Group C is actually the toughest at the tournament. France are ranked ninth in the world, Peru 11th, and Denmark 12th. When you consider that Australia is ranked 39th, the best they can really hope for is a win against Peru and a draw or better against Denmark. Whether this will be enough to progress to the Round of 16 will depend on results from the other matches.