Soccer

Peru back after 36 years and is the feel-good team, but France is the team to beat

More than 40,000 Peruvian fans showed up at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to see Peru's World Cup team play a friendly against Croatia on March 24, 2018. Peru is back in the World Cup after a 36-year absence.
More than 40,000 Peruvian fans showed up at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to see Peru's World Cup team play a friendly against Croatia on March 24, 2018. Peru is back in the World Cup after a 36-year absence. Miami Herald

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World Cup group previews

Miami Herald soccer writer Michelle Kaufman breaks down each group in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and selects her top two teams that will advance out of the group stage.

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The 2018 World Cup opens in less than a month, on June 14, in Moscow. Here is what we can expect from Group C.

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Australia's national soccer team head coach Bert van Marwijk poses for a photo in Sydney, Monday, May 7, 2018. Van Marwijk has named 32 players as part of his preliminary squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Australia: Expectations are low for the Socceroos, who needed playoffs against Syria and Honduras to get into the World Cup. The key player is Aaron Mooy, a midfielder with Huddersfield Town in the English Premier League who could wind up on a bigger club with a good performance. Longtime coach Ange Postecoglou resigned in November 2017, citing burnout, and Bert von Marwijk took over.

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 filer, Denmark's Christian Eriksen celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup qualifying play off second leg soccer match between Ireland and Denmark at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)

Denmark: The Danes enter on a high after stunning group-winner Poland 4-0 in qualifying and beating Ireland 5-1 in a playoff. This is a tall team, with key players 6-3 and 6-4. The attack centers on Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, who scored 11 goals in qualifying, including a hat trick against Ireland.

Soccer WCup Group C France.JPG
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 27, 2018 file photo, Russia's Konstantin Rausch, right, duels for the ball with France's Paul Pogba during the international friendly soccer match between Russia and France at the Saint Petersburg stadium in St.Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

France: Les Bleus have plenty of talent, led by Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (PSG) and Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid). The key will be whether the French can stay focused and avoid the distractions and in-fighting that have plagued their teams in recent years. Assuming they win the group, they would have a tough Round of 16 matchup against the winner of the Argentina-Croatia-Iceland-Nigeria group.

Soccer WCup Group D Iceland.JPG
In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, Iceland defender Ragnar Sigurdsson, left, clears the ball as Peru forward Jefferson Farfan attacks during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Peru: One of the feel-good teams of this World Cup, Peru is back after a 36-year absence, longest drought of all 32 teams. Midway through qualifying, they were in eighth place of 10 teams, but they finished strong, beat New Zealand in a playoff and are undefeated the past 12 games. Paolo Guerrero was suspended for doping, but won a reprieve after a Swiss Tribunal agreed to temporarily lift a 14-month suspension.

Prediction: France wins the group, and Peru’s unlikely run continues.

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