Every day at Sportsgrape we’ll be previewing every World Cup game with team news, tips and predictions ahead of the day’s games. As the groups stages progress into the second round of fixtures, Thursday’s games see the two teams at the top of Group C looking to secure a place in the last 16, while the final game of the day sees two of the World Cup “dark horses” face off.
GAME ONE: Denmark vs Australia (1pm kick off BST)
Thursday’s opening fixture involves two sides who fared very differently in their opening group games.
Although the Danes began their tournament with a hard-fought victory over Peru, they were rather indebted to Cristian Cueva’s first-half penalty miss which massively helped them on the road to victory. Australia, meanwhile, suffered a double dose of bad luck in their opening match against France. The Video Assiastant Referee (VAR) stepped in to give Les Bleus the lead, and while the Kangaroos got back into the game through a penalty of their own, Paul Pogba’s flukey strike ten minutes from time bounced inches over the line.
Denmark will certainly make at least one change from their opening line-up against the Peruvians, as midfielder William Kvist has been ruled out of the rest of the World Cup after fracturing his ribs in the opening game. Ajax’s Lasse Schone, who replaced Kvist on Saturday, is expected to deputise once again in the middle of the park. Meanwhile, Jonas Knudsen, who plays for Ipswich Town in the Championship, will be available after flying back to Denmark following the birth of his baby daughter on the weekend.
The Aussies have a clean bill of health for the Denmark game, but their lack of goalscoring threat from France game could see them enforce a change of tactics and personnel. Perhaps Australia talisman Tim Cahill could be the answer, with the 38 year-old having scored five World Cup goals over the past three tournaments for his country. Centre-back Trent Sainsbury, who put in an astute performance against France, is expected to marshal the defence once again.
If the Danes play in the same hard-working manner that they demonstrated in their opening game, then they should win this game easily. But Australia know that defeat would mean almost-certain elimination from the competition, so will bring some extra fire and passion to the contest.
Prediction: Denmark 1-0 Australia
GAME TWO: France vs Peru (4pm kick-off BST)
The other game in Group C sees France take on Peru, with Les Bleus placed as strong favourites to gain all three points. Peru, meanwhile, are looking to respond to their unfortunate loss to Denmark by getting their World Cup campaign up and running as they look for their first points of the tournament.
Despite beating Australia in their opener, France know that there is still room for improvement and Didier Deschamps will make changes to his starting line-up on Thursday afternoon. Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud and Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi are expected to come into the side to replace Ousmane Dembélé and Corentin Tolisso. The focal point that Giroud will bring was sorely missed against Australia, and France looked more of a goalscoring threat when the 6ft 2 came on during the second-half of the game last Saturday. Captain Hugo Lloris will reach a century of caps for his country when the Tottenham ‘keeper takes to the field between the sticks.
Peru have no fresh injury concerns ahead of Thursday’s game, but manager Ricardo Gareca may turn to captain and talisman Paolo Guerrero in an attempt to break the France backline. The 34 year-old striker was initially banned for the tournament in Russia after failing an anti-doping test, but his ban was overturned two and a half weeks before their World Cup opener. He was named on the bench for the game against Denmark, but with a strong international scoring record of 34 goals in 89 games, his influence could be crucial from the off.
Despite Peru’s positive performance in their first World Cup game, the contest against the Euro 2016 finalists will be a completely different scenario. France’s poor display against Australia, despite resulting in victory, will act as a wake-up call for Les Bleus, and Deschamps’ men should breeze past the Peruvians.
Prediction: France 4-1 Peru
GAME THREE: Argentina vs Croatia (7pm kick-off BST)
The game of the day, however, comes at the end of the day as Argentina take on Croatia in a contest which is almost too difficult to predict.
Argentina looked to be heading for a comfortable victory when Sergio Aguero put them 1-0 up in their opening game against Iceland. But a lapse in concentration in defence allowed their opponents back into the game, while Lionel Messi missed a second-half penalty as they were frustratingly held to a 1-1 draw. The Croats fared very differently in their first game in Russia, who did not really need to come out of second gear against a disappointing Nigeria side. A 2-0 victory for Zlatko Dalic’s men put them in control of their group.
Both sides have no injury concerns after their opening games, but Jorge Sampaoli is set to make a tactical switch in his Argentinian side, with the former Sevilla manager set to replace Angel Di Maria with Boca Junior winger Cristian Pavon. The 22 year-old winger impressed after coming off the bench against Iceland, and has reportedly earned himself a a starting spot against Croatia. The Croatians are expected to name the same side that played against Nigeria, with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic controlling the midfield, and Mario Mandzukic leading the line.
Croatia are many people’s dark horses in this year’s World Cup, and have more than enough in them to damage Sampaoli’s stars. Argentina, meanwhile, need to win at all costs if they want to qualify for the knockout stages, with captain Messi having a lot to prove after a disappointing and frustrating opening outing.
Prediction: Argentina 2-2 Croatia