Day Three - Super Saturday

Russia World Cup 2018: France 2:1 Australia

VAR made its World Cup debut in Group C and gave France a dodgy penalty, dispatched clinically by Antoine Griezmann.

Even after the game debate raged in the TV studios, pubs and homes as to whether Josh Risdon had played the ball first and/or done enough to impede Antoine Griezmann.

Russia World Cup 2018

If even after video analysis there is no unanimity, surely the referee should have played on, as he originally did. But later in the afternoon the consensus was that it was indeed a penalty as Griezmann's trailing leg was caught by Risdon's boot.

The football gods made amends by making Samuel Umtiti do a Superman impression to an Australian cross. His handball allowed Mile Jedinak to slot in a penalty leveller.

France looked dormant for most of the match, as good teams often are when facing a minnow of defensive banks, but needed a 'Geoff Hurst' goal off the crossbar to win. Pogba's shot was approximately 0.00001 millimetres over the line, but a goal it certainly was.

Winning while playing badly is a sign of a good side and while France looked steady if unspectacular, it is only their first outing in Russia and they got maximum points. Australia showed they can frustrate effectively and should not be written off yet.

The pitch at the Spartak Stadium, which is only four years old, looked like Centre Court in the second week of Wimbledon and this was only the first game.

Argentina 1:1 Iceland

An enjoyable contrast of styles with as expected the South American passing game meeting English second division football in Group D.

Iceland fans

That is a bit unfair to Iceland given their results. Perhaps Tony Pulis' Stoke City would be a closer equivalent. They use physicality, long throws into the box and above all win the second ball.

A compact defence of about 12 men frustrated Argentina until Sergio Aguero thumped in an opener after 19 minutes, reminding us how thunderous his shots are when the pulls the trigger. Four minutes later Iceland equalised from a second ball in the box with a goal much like they scored against England at Euro 2016.

Alfred Finnbogason etched his name into the annals by scoring his country's first ever goal in the World Cup finals.

As the second half wore on, as expected Iceland held out for a draw while Argentina attacked. All eyes were on Leo Messi after CR7's hat-trick the night before but the Barcelona legend could not find the target, despite some classic dribble and shots on the edge of the box.

In the 64th minute Messi fluffed a spot-kick as Icelandic keeper Hannes Halldorsson dived right to parry his relatively high kick away. Replays questioned whether Maximiliano Meza had bought the penalty by initiating contact. We'll never know for sure, VAR or no...

Argentina looked better when they brought on Cristian Pavon for Angel Di Maria with a quarter of an hour left. Pavon's hugging of the left wing created space by dragging Iceland's shield wall open and he should have had a penalty when he was tripped entering the box in the 77th minute.

Bizarrely, no VAR was called although the contact seemed fairly clear.

Hannes Thor Halldorsson saves Messi's penalty
Hannes Thor Halldorsson saves Messi's penalty

Denmark 1:0 Peru

An even starker style clash. Peru, back at the finals after 36 years away and backed by the majority of the crowd in Saransk, managed to dominate a match, miss a penalty and lose in the end.

Poor Christian Cueva who launched his penalty just before half time into the crowd. Maybe he had spotted some family and friends. The Sao Paulo midfielder looked crestfallen and got consoling or was that counselling from his teammates as he went to the dressing room.

In the second half Denmark netted on a breakaway engineered by Christian Eriksen, who else, but otherwise looked lucky to come away with three points.

Peru pressed and pressed, winger Andre Carillo looked particularly incisive and Kaspar Schmeichel saved the Danish bacon more than once.

When returning hero Paulo Guerrero back-heeled audaciously a yard wide you knew it was not going to be their night.

Los Incas looked devastated by the final whistle, a reminder that football can be a cruel game.

But France will certainly be more worried about playing them than they will facing the Danes.

Croatia 2:0 Nigeria

Four games in one day is a wonderful footy binge but as with beers, the law of diminishing returns applied here.

The tablecloth-clad fans of Croatia had colonised the western enclave of Kaliningrad, another ground with a pitch looking less than perfect before the first ball had been kicked.

An uneventful first half hour saw the deadlock broken when Mario Mandzukic scored from a stooping header via a deflection off Oghenekaro Etebo.

Luka Modric stroked home a penalty (is it mandatory now to award one per match?) after William Troost-Ekong holds onto Mandzukic like a man who has leapt out of a plane without a parachute and grabs someone who has one. There was no need for VAR for a change.

Nigeria had been insipid and unthreatening in the first half and dull and uninspiring afterwards. Their change strip of dark green made them almost invisible in more ways than one.

How good are the Croats? We'll see against Argentina on Thursday. How bad are Nigeria? We seem to know already.

And so the four game super Saturday is over at last. Can we have the World Cup every year please?

World Cup 2018

Russia 5 v Saudia Arabia 0

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post