Which nations are the favourites to win, who are the star players and managers to watch out for and how did each team qualify?

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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.  

GROUP D: FRANCE, AUSTRALIA,

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DENMARK, TUNISIA

FRANCE

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. 

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 first goal against South Africa in midweek shows the confidence running through his veins.

The PSG star 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.

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 with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Chance of winning the trophy – 5/5

DENMARK

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.

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 to England by 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?

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – It would have been easy to say Christian Eriksen, given the way he has recovered from that awful day last summer and is back playing and scoring in the Premier League and for his national team.

But, like at Tottenham, Hojbjerg is the understated star of the Danish team and does the dirty, gruelling work in midfield that allows the more creative players around him to flourish.

How did they qualify?

Denmark were run close by Scotland in Group F but always had 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.

Chance of winning the trophy – 2/5

TUNISIA

Who’s the manager?

Jalel Kadri – Tunisia currently have a temporary coach in charge of the national team, with Mondher Kebaier replaced after the Africa Cup of Nations a few months ago as he battled with Covid-19.

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 made 45 caps since making his debut in 2018, scoring three goals.

Also watch out for former Sunderland forward Wahbi Khazri – currently at Saint-Etienne – and Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri, who has already made 12 caps at the age of 19.

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. 

Chance of winning the trophy – 1/5

AUSTRALIA

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 following 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.

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, is now at Real Sociedad in Spain, operating as their No 2 goalkeeper behind Alex Remiro.

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 earlier this month 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.

Chance of winning the trophy – 1/5

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