Two more Round of 16 fixtures were decided today as France, Denmark, Croatia and Argentina all progressed. France, already in the knockout round, needed just a point to be crowned as group winners. Denmark had a, pretty much, straight forward task to advance: they also needed to earn a draw but hope Australia lose. Croatia had already qualified for the last 16, but their objective on the final day of the group was to finish first, which we know is so important in tournament football. Argentina, well they were in all sorts of problems going into today’s game, needing a win and hoping that Iceland didn’t win. Probably the most lackluster of the tournament favourites, they needed to put the previous two games behind them and grind out a big performance against Nigeria.
France fielded a weakened team to rest players ahead of their Round of 16 tie, which was going to be against either Nigeria, Iceland or Argentina before kickoff. Didier Deschamps took no chances with his key players and gave other players some World Cup experience. France’s B team didn’t change Denmark’s game plan, though. They came for a draw and set their team up to absorb pressure. Les Bleus created many chances, going close to scoring on many occasions, but failed to breach Kasper Schmeichel’s goal. Denmark resiliently defended to keep the French at bay, and were being rewarded for it as the clock ticked on. The game turned out to be the first 0-0 draw at the 2018 World Cup, making it the longest wait from the start of a single tournament for one – there had been 36 games played prior to today.
Denmark’s Head Coach, Age Hareide, explained:“We just needed a point and were up against one of the best counter-attacking teams in the world, so we would have been stupid to come out and attack. We’re very pleased with the 0-0. Our goal was to progress to the last 16 and we had a tough group – one of the toughest in the competition, I believe. In fact, the team that has ended up with three points, Peru, probably played the best! But football is an ongoing process and you have to be able to handle playing different styles. It was a good performance by the boys, very disciplined, and they sacrificed everything to take us on to the next stage of the competition. For the team, this has been wonderful.”
In the other game, Australia were rattled by Peru in Sochi and conceded two goals without reply. Andre Carrillo opened the scoring for the South Americans in the 18th minute with a beautiful strike from the top of the box. That was Peru’s first World Cup goal since returning to the tournament after 36 years. He ended a barren run of 205 minutes since Guillermo La Rosa struck in a 5-1 loss to Poland in La Coruna during Spain 1982. For Australia, that early goal was a damaging blow to their hopes of clinching a spot in the last 16; needing a victory combined with a France win against Denmark to advance. National hero, Paolo Guerrero, doubled Las Incas’ lead in the 50′ after tucking away Christian Cueva’s cross from the left flank.
Australia did have something to celebrate when they saw Tim Cahill come on in what is, most likely, his last ever World Cup game. He became the third Australian to appear at 4 FIFA World Cup finals tournaments, previously playing in 2006, 2010 and 2014. At 38 years old, he’s is also the Socceroos’ oldest player to appear in a World Cup, breaking the mark set by Mark Schwarzer, who was 37. But the Australian legend couldn’t inspire his team to get anything from their final game. It was a tough three matches for Australia at Russia 2018. All games were close and many positives can be drawn from the Socceroos’ time at the World Cup in the coming days and weeks. For Peru, La Blanquirroja will fly to Lima proud of their final result at Russia 2018 and the comprehensive performance their Peruvian fans can be proud of.
Group C finished like this:
In Group D, drama continued to be prevalent. Lionel Messi opened the group’s final day scoring in the 14′ with a smart right-footed finish past Uhozo in goal. This goal marked the 100th goal scored at Russia 2018, and made Messi the third Argentine player to score at three World Cups (after Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta). Messi also became the first player to score World Cup goals in his teens, his 20’s an his 30’s. The stats keep on coming, don’t they? Mr. Messi went close to scoring a second when his free-kick was touched onto the post by Uhozo, sparing Nigeria a mountain to climb.
At each of the last three World Cup tournaments, the 100th goal was scored by a player under contract at FC Barcelona:
2010 – Andrés Iniesta (ESP) v Chile
2014 – Neymar (BRA) v Cameroon
2018 – Lionel Messi (ARG) v Nigeria
Things were much quieter in the other game at Rostov-On-Don with Iceland trying to break Croatia down, but being cautious at the back at the same time. With Argentina leading, a 1-0 win would’ve been enough to take them through. The Croatians were yet to show much urgency to press their Viking opponents, but Iceland failed to take advantage of the generous leniency.
Both first halves finished 1-0 and 0-0, respectively.
Nigeria returned from the break with high intensity and were awarded a penalty when Javier Mascherano hauled down Leon Balogun, and received a yellow card for it. Chelsea’s Victor Moses coolly converted and placed Nigeria back into contention for qualification. Things got better for Nigeria when Milan Badelj put Croatia in front in the other game. As things stood, they were going through on 4 points, leaving Argentina on 2 and Iceland on 1. The pendulum swung again, though – this time, in Iceland’s favour as they were given a penalty, which Gylfi Sigurdsson converted. The Vikings were back in with a chance, but needed to come up with another goal and hope Argentina went in front again…
…and Argentina obliged. Marcos Rojo buried a cross from the right flank in the 86′, sending Argentinean fans ballistic! This was Rojo’s second goal against Nigeria in as many World Cup games, the first was the winner in 2014. This was looking like it would be the winner again. To the romantic fans’ despair, there was to be no fairy-tale end to the group as Ivan Perisic netted Croatia’s winning goal in the 90th minute. Iceland were gutted. Both games finished 2-1.
Argentina were joyfully relieved, particularly Mr. Messi. He finally showed a bit of leadership his team needed to scrape them through to the last 16. Croatia ensured that they were group winners.
Here’s how Group D finished:
With Argentina finishing second, it means that they’re on Portugal’s side of the bracket, giving many fans the excitement of a possible Messi-Ronaldo match-up in the quarterfinals. What a game that would be, huh? I can’t wait for more World Cup drama to come.
Image Credit: FIFA