Houston Chronicle - - SOCCER -

Pre­dicted order of fin­ish: France, Peru, Den­mark, Aus­tralia.

Out­look: It’s hard to see the French go­ing home early this sum­mer, given the wealth of vi­brant at­tack­ers and pil­lars of Euro­pean club soccer in the lineup. Many ob­servers see them as gen­uine ti­tle con­tenders —but only if they per­form in har­mony and avoid the self­ish trap­pings that sunk past squads.

Three of the five most ex­pen­sive club trans­fers in his­tory in­volved cur­rent French play­ers: Kylian Mbappe (Monaco to Paris Saint-Ger­man for $168 mil­lion), Ous­mane Dem­bele (Borus­sia Dort­mund to Barcelona, $122 mil­lion) and Paul Pogba ( Ju­ven­tus to Manch­ester United, $122 mil­lion). The squad also fea­tures hard­ened goal­keeper Hugo Lloris (Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur) and veteran scor­ers An­toine Griez­mann (Atletico Madrid) and Olivier Giroud (Chelsea).

The de­fense, how­ever, is sus­pect, and coach Di­dier Deschamps must keep this group on the same page.

Al­though they are clear group fa­vorites, Les Bleus will not have an easy time. Den­mark showed its for­ti­tude in the qual­i­fy­ing play­offs by rolling to a 5-1 vic­tory at Ire­land after a dis­ap­point­ing 0-0 home draw.

Peru is mak­ing its first ap­pear­ance since 1982, an as­tound­ing drought con­sid­er­ing its pros­per­ity at the con­ti­nen­tal cham­pi­onship, Copa Amer­ica (semi­fi­nals in 1997, 2011 and 2015). Credit goes to its Ar­gen­tine coach, Ri­cardo Gareca, who, after a rocky start to qual­i­fy­ing, over­saw eight matches with­out a de­feat, in­clud­ing a play­off tri­umph against New Zealand.

Philippe Des­mazes / AFP/Getty Im­ages

Kylian Mbappe hopes to help keep things look­ing up for France.

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