Super Saturday is done and dusted and it’s time to look back at the two groups that were involved. This is my review of Matchday 1 for Groups C and D.
Match 1: France vs Australia
The much vaunted French were out for their match in the early afternoon kick-off. They started off well enough, getting behind the Australian defence a couple of times early on, but not able to make use of it in terms of the finished product. Australia came into the game and started linking up well in midfield and kept the French at bay. They made a couple of inroads themselves but lacked the quality in the final third. The first half petered out and one wouldn’t grudge the Aussies their point for the moment. The second half started in much the same way, with France huffing and puffing but not able to get the breakthrough. Then it happened, the historic moment, with the first use of VAR at this World Cup. Griezman was put through on goal, only to be clipped in the heels by Risdon. The Australian defender seemed to get a toe on the ball before the touch on Griezman, but the referee felt the latter was the more crucial touch. The French No. 7 converted the resulting penalty. Their lead did not last long. Australia got a penalty of their after a mind-blank moment from Samuel Umtiti, who handled inside his box. Mile Jedinak converted and we were level again! The Australians did not sit back however, and had some attacks of their own. The French were making better progress though and finally retook the lead with less than ten minutes to go, via a deflected shot from Paul Pogba. Once again technology made the decisive decision, goal-line technology involved with awarding the goal. France kept the majority of possession post that, and the Australians ran out of steam, if not heart, by then. The pre-tournament favourites had dodged a bullet.
Final Score: France 2 – 1 Australia
Match 2: Peru vs Denmark
Denmark were the more fancied team in this match but it was Peru who played the more attacking football from the start. Taking the game to the Danish from the start, their three man attacking midfield of Carillo, Cueva and Flores were at their fluid best, getting down the by-line and putting balls into the Danish box all through. Their efforts were rewarded with the awrding of a penalty kick, right at the end of the first half, and again with the intervention VAR. Yussuf Yurary Poulsen unfairly brought down Cueva, who stepped up himself to take the penalty. The nerves were written across his face and he went on to sky his kick well over! It was more of the same in the second half but the Danes started to make better inroads into their opposition defence. The breakthrough came in the 60th minute when Christian Eriksen (who else), found space in the midfield and slid a ball to the same Poulsen, who made no mistake in beating the goalkeeper at the near post. Peru, to their credit, continued their onslaught on the Danish goal, and it took a few top-drawer saves from Kasper Schmeichel to keep them out. It wasn’t to be for the fighting Peruvians in a game where they truly deserved at least a point. The Danes joined France at the top of the group.
Final Score: Peru 1 – 2 Denmark
Match 1: Argentina vs Iceland
Argentina started off imperviously, and it looked like they were ready to shed their dependency on stalwart Messi as Aguero impressively turned and shot past the goalkeeper in the 19th minute. They didn’t have everything their way till that point though, with Bjarnason missing a near open goal from about 15 yards just past the 10 minute mark. The Vikings hit back soon enough, and got level after just four minutes. Caballero parried a shot from Siggurdson into the center of his box and Finnbogason was on hand to pounce on the rebound. The tiny island nation were punching many times above their weight in their first World Cup outing and holding steady. They even had a chance to take the lead from a near carbon-copy situation at the end of the half, but this time the Argentine defence was able to get it away. The start of the second half was a little slow but things picked up when Mexa was brought down and his team were awarded a penalty. Up stepped Messi and hit a fierce drive to the goalkeeper’s right, but the ball wasn’t in the corner and the latter guessed correctly and saved well. What followed was a defensive lesson in stubbornness from the underdogs, and although Argentina came closer and closer, they could not find the important breakthrough. The Messi team had well and truly messed up!
Final Score: Argentina 1 – 1 Iceland
Match 2: Croatia vs Nigeria
The two teams started well-matched with both getting balls into the oppositions’ box on a few occasions. Modric showed his quality, finding teammates with long range passes on a couple of occasions as well. In the 32nd minute, Mario Mandzukic threw himself at a corner, his glancing header flicked off the standing leg of Etebo, and went in. This was another African team who had the misfortune of an own goal, albeit much less spectacular this time. Dejan Lovren put in an important block a couple of minutes later from a rasping drive by Alex Iwobi. Kramaric nearly doubled his country’s lead with a header, as the Nigerian goalkeeper was caught out of position but the ball landed on top of the net. Similar to the first half, both teams were able to get efforts on goal in the early part of the second half, without success, with Rebic failing to convert a volley from around 8 yards out. A big penalty shout for Nigeria was turned down as Strinic made contact with Victor Moses. Just a few minutes later, a penalty was awarded at the opposite end, as Ekong wrestled Mandzukic to the floor while defending a corner. Up stepped Modric and he made no mistake in converting from the spot. It was a question of getting through the final 20 minutes for Croatia as their opponents seem to run out of energy and ideas. The Europeans move to the top of the group and with Argentina not looking very impressive will fancy their chances of topping the group.
Final Score: Croatia 2 – 0 Nigeria