They begin against previous champions France in Kazan on June 16, then tackle Denmark in Samara on June 21 and finish against Peru in Sochi on June 26.
While the prospect of facing a rampaging France could make for a difficult start, there’s two very winnable matches for the Socceroos thereafter, making it a distinct possibility that they could qualify for the second round for the first time since 2006.
Here’s our look at how the Socceroos’ opposition measures up.
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Key players: Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé, Alexandre Lacazette, Paul Pogba, Hugo Lloris.
World Cup record: Champions as hosts in 1998. 15-time qualifiers.
Qualification: Topped their group ahead of Sweden, the Netherlands and Bulgaria with seven wins from 10 matches.
Record v Australia: Four meetings - Australia one win, France two wins, one draw.
Last meeting: France 6 Australia 0, Paris, October 2013
One of the tournament fancies, the Socceroos will collide with a French team at the peak of their powers. A youthful-looking team bowed out to Germany of the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup before falling in the final against Portugal in Euro 2016 on home soil. They arrive in Russia knowing it could well be their best chance for this generation to emulate the heroes of 1998.
After so much tumult with the national team for the past 15 years – involving any number of bust-ups, walk-outs and all-out scandals – Les Bleus finally looks to have settled. While they lost in qualifying to Sweden (which will give Denmark great hope here), they were otherwise unbeaten, impressively defeating the Netherlands both home and away.
Didier Deschamps appears to have control of an extraordinarily talented squad, including a front third that could terrorise Australia – spearheaded by Alexandre Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé, a trio whose collective current transfer value would surpass A$400 million in the current market. Add the unstoppable Paul Pogba in midfield, the commanding Raphael Varane in defence and Hugo Lloris in goal and this appears a tough opening match for Australia.
The last time Australia played France they were beaten 6-0 in Paris four years ago, but the Socceroos have also beaten France in their pomp, winning 1-0 at the 2001 Confederations Cup.
Coach: Ricardo Gareca
Captain: Alberto Rodriguez
Key players: Jefferson Farfán, Paolo Guerrero, Christian Cueva, Yoshimar Yotún, Alberto Rodríguez
World Cup record: Back for the first time since 1982. Four-time qualifiers. Reached the last eight in 1970.
Qualification: Surprise fifth-placed finishers in South America ahead of Chile and others. Defeated New Zealand 2-0 in a play-off.
Record v Australia: Never met.
It’s the third time in five World Cups that the Socceroos have faced South American opposition – but the prospect of Peru is far less daunting than either of Brazil (2006) or Chile (2014). In fact, both Australia and Peru have been to the World Cup four times, but that includes the Peruvians being “invited” to the first event in 1930.
Plenty of Australians will have watched Peru qualify for the World Cup via their play-off with New Zealand, when they held out the Kiwis during the first leg in Wellington before overwhelming the All Whites at home. It was a powerful performance, but New Zealand will be disappointed not to have gotten closer.
Peru’s style tends to be less fluid than the big guns of CONMEBOL – but what they lack in technical ability and tactical nous they make up for with pure fight. Away wins over Ecuador and Paraguay and away draws with Argentina and Venezuela in the later stages of qualifying (following back-to-back losses at the start) showed this team has the heart of a lion. Even at 33, Jefferson Farfán remains their biggest threat, although so much will hinge on whether fellow veteran Paolo Guerrero is allowed to play in June after failing a recent drugs test.
It will be the first time Australia and Peru have faced each other at this level.
Coach: Age Hareide
Captain: Simon Kjaer
Key players: Christian Eriksen, Kasper Schmeichel, Simon Kjær, Nicklas Bendtner, Yussuf Poulsen
World Cup record: First appearance since 2010. Four-time qualifiers. Reached the last eight in 1998.
Qualification: Finished second in their group behind Poland, defeating Ireland 5-1 in a play-off.
Record v Australia: Three meetings - Australia one win, Denmark two wins.
Last meeting: Denmark 2 Australia 0, Copenhagen, June 2012
Denmark very nearly made a hash of World Cup qualifying, losing two of their first three qualifiers (3-2 away to Poland and then 1-0 at home against Montenegro) before steadying the ship and going unbeaten thereafter. However, given it was the weakest group in the entire continent, their form line is hard to read – and their rating of twelfth looks more than a little generous.
And like Peru and Australia, Denmark needed a play-off to secure their place in Russia 2018. Perhaps it was there we saw the inconsistency in this side, which failed to score at home against Ireland before going to Aviva Stadium and slaughtering the hosts 5-1 – despite conceding the opening goal. That was the night of a Christian Eriksen masterclass and he is clearly the group’s class player outside of France’s galaxy of stars.
The bookies will probably have Denmark as favourites to join France in progressing through to the next round but the reality is that not much separates them from the rest of the group. They play a skillful, intelligent style but haven’t been a force for many years, missing two of the past three World Cups and making an early exit in 2010.
Australia and Denmark have faced off three times in the past decade, with Denmark winning twice (3-1 in London in 2007 and 2-0 in Copenhagen in 2012) and Australia winning once, in 2010, just before the World Cup in South Africa.