After 12 days and 36 games, we finally have the first goalless stalemate of the 2018 World Cup – which was so dire, it balanced out all the goals, drama, and largely entertaining football on display before, and could well be dubbed the “Mediocrity of Moscow”. The good news is, that was where it ended. The later games duly served up their share of the drama.
- In case you missed Denmark v France, there’s nothing to worry: you didn’t miss much. Played out amid boos and whistles, the slow-paced game did not reflect the two teams’ attacking firepower, and looked out of place with this vibrant tournament. Safe to say that their displays did not go down too well with the 78,000 spectators inside the Luzhniki Stadium. The draw meant that both sides advanced to the round of 16 unbeaten, Denmark for the first time since 2002.
- Meanwhile in Sochi, André Carrillo’s 18th-minute goal gave Peru the lead. Paolo Guerrero latched onto a long ball played over the ball and sent a cross to the other side of the penalty area for Carrillo, who unleashed an incredibly powerful volley past Mat Ryan.
- In the second half, Guerrero, who almost missed the tournament until his drugs ban was overturned, added Peru’s second and also became the third-oldest South American to score to score at a World Cup. After exchanging a brilliant one-two with Miguel, Edison Flores chipped the ball forward for his captain, who let it bounce once before firing a volley into the far corner.
- And so, already-eliminated Peru ended Australia’s hopes of going through to the knockout stage. Most of their attacking threat came through Tom Rogic, and Tim Cahill and Daniel Arzani briefly laid siege to the South Americans’ goal, but the Group C standings accurately reflect where they currently are.
- Later in St Petersburg, Lionel Messi’s first goal of the tournament – and the 100th of this year’s edition of the tournament – put Argentina ahead in the 14th minute. Éver Banega lofted a fantastic ball over the Nigeria defence to find Messi, who was being tailed by Kenneth Omeruo. The forward then controlled the ball with his thigh and cushioned it forward with his boot, before superbly striking into the bottom corner.
- The drama was yet to unfold, however. After Argentina’s flying start, Nigeria dominated significant spells of the match and equalised through Victor Moses’ spot-kick in the second half, when Javier Mascherano was adjudged to have fouled Leon Balogun in the penalty area.
- With both sides looking capable of scoring a winner, Argentina survived a VAR referral for a supposed handball by Marcos Rojo. The centre-back then became their unlikely hero and saved La Albiceleste from elimination with a cushioned volley from the heart of the penalty area.
- 500 miles away at the Rostov Arena, a reserve Croatia side cemented their place as Group C winners, helping Argentina in the process. Iceland started the better of the two and were left to rue their missed chances when Josip Pivaric squared the ball to Milan Badelj inside the penalty area, who finished well on the half-volley to give Croatia the lead.
- Iceland nearly found an immediate equaliser and bounced back well, eventually scoring from the spot through Gylfi Sigurðsson to keep their qualification hopes alive. After missing his spot-kick against Nigeria, there were no mistakes this time as he powered the ball straight into the back of the net.
- It was not to be for Iceland. Argentina were now leading against Nigeria and in the 90th minute, Ivan Perisic capitalised on a defensive error to score the winner for Croatia, finishing from a tight angle to ensure a 100% record.
- France are through to the round of 16 as winners of Group C, but the pre-tournament favourites have not delivered a performance that suggests they are capable of winning the tournament in any of their three matches. Didier Deschamps is yet to find a system that makes the most of the talent in his squad. The lifeless display against Denmark sums up this lacklustre side.
- Narrow defeats to Denmark and France meant an early elimination for Peru, but that message did not filter through to their fans, who have been magnificent. The two goals scored by Carrillo and Guerrero, both historic in their own way, added a tangible embellishment to the impressive performance against Australia, played out to a soundtrack of passionate support from their compatriots.
- Argentina stay alive, digging deep to rescue their World Cup hopes, but were lucky to see their defensive failings not punished on more occasions. Their defence was wide open for long periods and Odion Iglaho’s missed chance with the game level at 1-1 proved to be crucial.
- Speaking of Argentina, their clash with Nigeria saw Diego Maradona take his animated presence in the stands to the next level. The 57-year-old experienced a roller-coaster of emotions: he was seen rolling his eyes, wringing his hands, apparently falling asleep, being held back from leaning too far over the barrier, and celebrating in a not-so-glorious manner.
- Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia had impressed in their dismantling of Argentina, and they further underlined their credential by finishing first in Group D despite making nine changes. The 1998 semi-finalists will need their strength in dept if they are to go all the way, and they will by heavy favourites to see off Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod.
- A special mention to Birkir Bjarnason, who probably couldn’t be more of a Viking if he tried. Hit in the face by Marko Pjaka’s elbow, Bjarnason basically lost his whole nose and struggled with blood. Of course, he got right back in.
Goal of the day
Messi’s goal was sublime, but Carrillo’s wonderstrike has to be the winner today. Set up by Guerrero with a delightful cross, the stunning volley gave Peru their first World Cup goal in 36 years. Ryan had no chance of stopping that thunderbolt of a shot.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 26, 2018