Qatar 2022: Group D Preview

After four and a half years the 2022 World Cup is almost upon us. This edition is perhaps the most controversial ever with host nation Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers a serious issue in the buildup. The awarding of the tournament to the Middle Eastern country meant a traditional summer World Cup was out of the question due to high temperatures spawning the first ever winter World Cup. Nevertheless the month long festival of football looks set to thrill us with some of the biggest stars in the game hoping to lead their nation to glory.

Here’s a comprehensive look at Qatar 2022’s Group D, with France, Australia, Denmark and Tunisia looking to book their place in the knockout stages of the tournament.

FRANCE

The reigning world champions arrive in Qatar in poor form, having finished third in their Nations League Group A1, behind Croatia and Denmark – picking up only five points from six games.

However, Les Bleus were undefeated during their World Cup Qualification campaign, topping Group D with 18 points from eight games – six clear of runners-up Ukraine.

During qualification, Didier Deschamps relied on his formidable trio of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann – collectively netting 14 times.

Familiar faces from home soil, past and present, are abound, with seasoned striker Olivier Giroud among the ranks, veteran Hugo Lloris between the sticks, while Raphael Varane clocked four appearances in qualification. However, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Wesley Fofana will miss the tournament through injuries.

Elsewhere, William Saliba has impressed for Arsenal at the right time, while former Gunners midfielder Matteo Guendouzi is now a regular at Marseille and Chelsea target Christopher Nkunku is flying for RB Leipzig.

Deschamps is expected to step down come the end of the tournament.

France have a polarised history of success and capitulation on the world stage.

The current world champions bowed out in disgrace 12 years ago in South Africa, earned merely one point and crashed out at the Group stage without scoring a goal in 2002, and then, of course, there was Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt during the final against Italy in 2006.

France recorded impressive statistics during qualification, revealing an all-round strength – which is unsurprising from a squad brimming with world-class talents. Deadly in attack and watertight at the back, France enter another World Cup among a clutch of favourites to go all the way.

However, the stuttering Nations League campaign, coupled with lower-ranked opposition – with the exception of Ukraine – in their qualifying group, still poses question marks over Deschamps’ side.

Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe

It’s one of the most iconic moments in modern football: Kylian Mbappe holding the World Cup aloft after scoring in the final at just 19 years of age.

That achievement came less than a year after joining Paris Saint-Germain from Monaco, initially on loan, but eventually costing the French club £166m – the second-most expensive signing ever.

With electric pace and laser finishing, the stage is set for Mbappe to ignite once again – having finished sixth in this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Since joining PSG, only Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals in Europe’s top five leagues – outgunning the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Benzema himself.

And, of course, Mbappe will be looking to make amends for his shootout penalty miss against Switzerland at Euro 2020, which led to France crashing out of the tournament in the Round of 16.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda.

Defenders: Axel Disasi, Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez, Ibrahima Konate, Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard, William Saliba, Dayot Upamecano, Raphael Varane.

Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga, Youssouf Fofana, Matteo Guendouzi, Adrien Rabiot, Aurelien Tchouameni, Jordan Veretout.

Forwards: Karim Benzema, Kingsley Coman, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Christopher Nkunku, Marcus Thuram.

Fixtures:

  • November 22nd v Australia
  • November 26th v Denmark
  • November 30th v Tunisia

AUSTRALIA

Better late than never – Australia were one of the last teams to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Qatar after they dramatically beat Peru on penalties in the continental play-off back in June.

That match was won in remarkable circumstances. Moments before the penalty shootout was about to begin, first-choice goalkeeper and captain Mat Ryan was substituted for the inexperienced Andrew Redmayne.

The back-up goalkeeper successfully managed to put two Peru penalty takers off with his dancing on the line – helping his side win 5-4 in the shootout.

This is Australia’s sixth appearance at the men’s FIFA World Cup – although they have only managed to win two of out their 16 matches so far in the tournament proper.

Only once have they managed to qualify for the knockout stages – in 2006 where they were beaten by hosts Germany.

With France, Denmark and Tunisia in their group this time around – Australia are right up against it to make a second appearance in the latter World Cup rounds.

But recent history has shown that Australia can disrupt the party using any means necessary.

Graham Arnold is looking to answer his critics.

Many experts are still surprised that Australia made it to the World Cup finals, especially with Graham Arnold at the helm.

The Australia coach’s job was on the line after picking up just one win in seven going into the World Cup play-offs, which came alongside a hefty $25,000 fine by Football Australia in October for breaching coronavirus protocols by going on a New South Wales beach walk while infected.

But a miraculous turn of form got Australia over the qualification line and – together with former Manchester United assistant and Fulham manager Rene Muelensteen as his assistant – Arnold will lead his country into a tricky group stage.

Whatever happens in Qatar, the future of Australian football does look bright, with a host of young players under the age of 25 coming through.

Arnold used the September break to test some of those youngsters out – including Newcastle’s new teenage striker Garang Kuol – and the experience of elite tournament football will do that crop of players the world of good.

Former Arsenal and Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan brings plenty of experience at the back alongside Celtic’s Aaron Mooy and former Bhoys icon Tom Rogic.

Arnold will have to balance those cool heads with the unknown of inexperience should Australia want to cause a surprise in Qatar.

Player to watch: Ajdin Hrustic

Goalkeeper and captain Mat Ryan will hope to marshal Australia at the back – but someone needs to take the initiative to put the ball in the net at the other end.

Australia’s best chance of that is attacking midfielder Ajdin Hrustic, who is one of the few national team players to make a splash in Europe over the past few years.

The midfielder helped Eintracht Frankfurt to a Europa League title earlier this year, scoring his penalty in the shootout win over Rangers in the final, but has since completed a move to Serie A club Hellas Verona.

Hrustic has a wand of a left foot and is a real threat from set pieces – two out of his three goals for Australia have come from long-range free-kicks.

If Australia are to surprise pundits this winter and come through a tricky group to reach the knockout stages, then the 26-year-old midfielder will have to be on top form from the off.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Mat Ryan, Andrew Redmayne, Danny Vukovic

Defenders: Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich, Joel King, Nathaniel Atkinson, Fran Karacic, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles, Bailey Wright, Thomas Deng

Midfielders: Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, Ajdin Hrustic, Keanu Baccus, Cameron Devlin, Riley McGree

Forwards: Awer Mabil, Mathew Leckie, Martin Boyle, Jamie Maclaren, Jason Cummings, Mitchell Duke, Garang Kuol, Craig Goodwin

Fixtures:

  • November 22nd v France
  • November 26th v Tunisia
  • November 30th v Denmark

DENMARK

Denmark breezed through qualification for Qatar 2022, winning nine of their 10 matches, losing just once, and even that was their final dead-rubber clash against second-placed Scotland.

Kasper Hjulmand’s side scored 30 goals in the process, including 5-0 and 8-0 home romps over Israel and Moldova respectively, as well as a 4-0 win in Austria, while also conceding only three times along the way.

As a result, the Danes will arrive at the World Cup expecting to emerge from a Group D also containing holders France – who they recently beat both home and away in the Uefa Nations League – Tunisia and Australia.

And those impressive recent victories over the world champions show the Scandinavians could be serious challengers this winter and will expect to at least match their previous best showing at the tournament, a quarter-final appearance at France ’98.

Kasper Hjulmand’s squad are a dark horse ahead of the tournament.

Group D has once again thrown up an intriguing clash between world champions France and Denmark in what will be the third group-stage meeting between the two in the tournament’s history, while they also faced each other in the UEFA Nations League this year.

However, anyone thinking Kasper Hjulmand and Co won’t relish such a scenario would be wrong, especially given the Danes got the better of Les Bleus in both recent encounters, as they also did when they beat the then holders in the 2002 World Cup group phase.

In fact, Denmark could be considered something of a bogey team for France, who failed to score against them at the last tournament as well, while it was at France ’98 that the Scandinavians produced their best-ever performance at a World Cup when reaching the last eight.

Get the better of Didier Deschamps’ team again in Doha on November 26 and Denmark will be well on their way to the knockouts and if their under-rated showing at Euro 2020 is anything to go by – when they unluckily lost 2-1 to England in extra-time in the semi-finals – then they could be hard to stop from there.

Player to watch: Kasper Schmeichel

This will almost certainly be Schmeichel’s final-ever appearance at a World Cup given the goalkeeper will be 40 by the time the next tournament gets under way and as always with Denmark, the Nice No 1 will need to be at his very best if his side are to go deep into the competition.

The keeper was on top form to help the Danes reach the last 16 at the previous World Cup four years ago and then the semi-finals at Euro 2020, when even a series of penalty saves from him could not prevent his team’s exit.

And given he has been representing his country between the sticks for almost a decade now, winning 86 caps along the way, as well as claiming a Premier League and FA Cup winners’ medal with Leicester City, his experience of playing at the very highest level in the most pressurised situations should prove invaluable for Kasper Hjulmand’s team – especially if any knockout games go to penalties!

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel, Oliver Christensen, Frederik Ronnow

Defenders: Alexander Bah, Simon Kjaer, Joachim Andersen, Joakim Maehle, Andreas Christensen, Rasmus Kristensen, Jens Stryger Larsen, Victor Nelsson, Daniel Wass

Midfielders: Thomas Delaney, Mathias Jensen, Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Christian Norgaard, Robert Skov

Forwards: Andreas Cornelius, Martin Braithwaite, Kasper Dolberg, Mikkel Damsgaard, Jesper Lindstrom, Yussuf Poulsen, Andreas Skov Olsen, Jonas Wind

Fixtures:

  • November 22nd v Tunisia
  • November 26th v France
  • November 30th v Australia

TUNISIA

Tunisia finished top of Group B in the second round of African qualifying, setting up a two-legged play-off against Mali for a place at Qatar.

Jalel Kadri’s side secured a 1-0 victory in the first leg thanks to Moussa Sissako’s own goal and then battled to a 0-0 draw in Tunis to seal his country’s place in a second consecutive World Cup.

Tunisia will be appearing in their sixth World Cup.

They made their debut in the competition back in 1978, before qualifying for three straight tournaments in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Their most recent appearance was in 2018 when they featured in the same group as England. However, despite a win against Panama, they were once again knocked out at the group stage after losing to England and Belgium.

There is just one target for Tunisia in Qatar and that is to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time in their history.

Jalel Kadri is out to make history with his side.

In all five of their World Cup appearances so far, Tunisia have been eliminated at the group stage on each occasion.

However, this time around, the aim is clear. Tunisia, who were the lowest ranked team in pot three at the draw, want to reach new heights at a World Cup and progress from a group that also features France, Denmark and Australia.

“I think we can make it out of the group, we know France is up there and they will play to win. Denmark and Australia are good teams, I think that it would be amazing if we could do it, Tunisia never went beyond the group stage. I think we have a well-built group who can qualify from the group” said Tunisia forward Wahbi Khazri.

Khazri was a member of Tunisia’s squad at the 2018 World Cup, and despite being eliminated at the group stage, they did manage to secure their first win at the World Cup since 1978 with a 2-1 victory over Panama.

And there is certainly optimism within the squad of causing a shock or two in Qatar and adding to that win as Tunisia bid to create history.

Player to watch:  Ellyes Skhiri

Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri, who is on loan at Birmingham City in the Championship this season, is worthy of a mention as a potential key player for Tunisia.

He has 12 caps to his name at the age of 19 and Tunisia boss Jalel Kadri has already stated that Mejbri’s regular football in the Championship this season could be really beneficial for the player and Tunisia.

However, key to Tunisia’s chances of any success at this tournament will be Ellyes Skhiri.

The midfielder is a regular for Cologne in the Bundesliga, where his main job is to shield his side’s defence. That’s his main role for his country too, and he is sure to be tested coming up against France and Denmark and Australia in Group D.

His experience will also be crucial. The 2021 Tunisian footballer of the year has 45 caps to his name since making his debut in 2018, and he featured in all three of Tunisia’s games at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Aymen Dahmen, Bechir Ben Said, Mouez Hassen, Aymen Mathlouthi

Defenders: Ali Abdi, Dylan Bronn, Mohamed Drager, Nader Ghandri, Bilel Ifa, Wajdi Kechrida, Ali Maaloul, Yassine Meriah, Montassar Talbi

Midfielders: Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane, Ghaylane Chaalali, Aissa Laidouni, Hannibal Mejbri, Ferjani Sassi, Elyas Skhiri

Forwards: Anis Ben Slimane, Seifeddine Jaziri, Issam Jebali, Wahbi Khazri, Taha Yassine Khenissi, Youssef Msakni, Naim Sliti

Fixtures:

  • November 22nd v Denmark
  • November 26th v Australia
  • November 30th v France

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