Russia Review: Day Eight

Day eight of Russia 2018 saw one team pack their bags, one book their place in the next rounds and one giant in desperate need of help. Every game at this stage of the World Cup has key connotations for how the rest of the group will pan out – all results today set up some tasty headlines heading into the final group games for all teams.

Welcome to Day Eight of Russia Review.

Jedinak penalty denies Danes

Australia kept their 2018 World Cup dreams alive with a deserved point against Denmark.

The Aussies went behind to an early Christian Eriksen volley, but responded before half-time through Mile Jedinak’s second penalty of the campaign.

A point apiece means the Socceroos have something to play for going into the final day, whilst Denmark may need a result against France.

The game started brightly, as Denmark took the lead inside the opening ten minutes.

6 ft 4 striker Nicolai Jørgensen, faced by two Australian defenders, had the presence of mind to flick the ball to his right and find an unmarked Eriksen, who ghosted in to rifle home his first World Cup goal and put the Danes ahead.

And it should have been two 15 minutes later – this time it was Jørgensen on the end of a Henrik Dalsgaard cross from the right, but he headed horribly wide from only a few yards out.

Denmark had enjoyed the better chances, but with less than ten minutes remaining of the half, the Aussies had a big penalty shout initially waved away before a VAR referral.

After viewing it back, Spanish referee Antonio Lahoz ruled that Yussuf Poulsen had handled a header from an Aaron Mooy corner – just as Frenchman Samuel Umtiti had in the Aussies opening game – and a penalty was given.

Poulsen was also unlucky with VAR in Denmark’s opener – giving away a spot-kick to Peru which was ultimately blazed over – but he wasn’t so fortunate this time around as Mile Jedinak stepped up to slot home his second of the tournament, bringing an end to Kasper Schmeichel’s run of five consecutive international clean sheets.

Both sides had chances in the second half; Pione Sisto curled a couple of efforts just wide for the Danes, but it was Australia who looked the more likely despite striker Andrew Nabbout being forced off with a shoulder injury.

Mooy hit a rocket that was inches too high and wide, whilst Tom Rogic saw a powerful curling shot well held by Schmeichel, who was kept on his toes in the closing stages.

Teenager Daniel Arzani was lively late on following his introduction, firing a venomous shot towards goal from a tight angle, but Schmeichel was equal to it before saving again seconds later to deny Mathew Leckie.

Despite the second half pressure, Denmark held out for a vital point, but will be without striker Poulsen in their final group game through suspension, whilst Australia will need to beat Peru to stand any chance of progression.

Proud Peru bow out as France progress

Brave Peru were eliminated from their first World Cup since 1982 after defeat against an unconvincing France.

Kylian Mbappe scored the only goal of the game as the French booked their place in the last 16, but like in their opening match, Peru failed to be clinical in front of goal, which ultimately cost them.

It was the Peruvians who had the game’s first big chance after half an hour – captain Paolo Guerrero managed to find a bit of space in the box after his first touch took him away from Samuel Umtiti, but a left-foot drive was saved by the legs of Hugo Lloris and cleared.

Mbappe then could have given France the lead minutes later. Paul Pogba lofted a ball into the area, and with the unmarked 19-year-old running backwards, he tried to volley a backheel in but missed the ball completely.

The young PSG attacker made no mistake seconds later though, as he was presented with another opportunity which he couldn’t really miss.

Olivier Giroud beat the Peru offside trap to get a shot away; it was blocked by an unlucky Peruvian defender and spun over the helpless goalkeeper Pedro Gallese before falling for Mbappe. The forward tapped in from a yard out to score his first World Cup goal and become the first teenager to score for France at a major international tournament.

The pace of the game slowed in the second half, but Peru were the only side that looked like scoring as their opponents were content to sit back.

They hit the post five minutes in, as holding midfielder Pedro Aquino hit an absolute thunderbolt towards goal, but he was one of many Peruvians throughout the tournament to be left disappointed as his fine effort struck the woodwork.

Two more attempts on goal followed but left something to be desired, with Andre Carrillo and full-back Luis Advincula both firing shots over the bar.

Their last chance of note came with 15 minutes remaining as another fine move saw Christian Cueva slide in Carrillo who crossed to the back post, but substitute Jefferson Farfan’s acrobatic volley from a tight angle could only find the side netting.

After that, Peru appeared to run out of steam and struggled to create anything of note, leaving them still searching for their first World Cup goal in 36 years.

Didier Deschamps’ France were happy to see the 1-0 scoreline through to confirm their place in the knockout stages, but big improvements will need to be made by Les Bleus if they’re to go deeper into the tournament.

Admirable Croatia through as Messi and Argentina flop again

Croatia are through to the last sixteen as they toppled two-time champions Argentina with a historic 3-0 victory at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.

Goals came from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic as Zlatko Dalic’s side surged to their second consecutive World Cup win which secured their place in the last sixteen, although whether it be as winners or runners up of the group remains to be settled.

The first half was one of missed chances. Shoddy defending, high tempo and the feisty nature of the game added to the excitement, as both teams created opportunities in the first period.

Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero made a fantastic save early on to deny Ivan Perisic, who found himself in space on the left-hand side more than once in the game.

Enzo Perez was gifted an opportunity to score as a Dejan Lovren error led to the ball falling at the feet of the River Plate midfielder Perez – his effort sailed wide of the open goal.

Back at the other end, Mario Mandzukic found himself onside and unmarked in the box after the Argentine back three failed to react to a testing cross from Vrsaljko. The Juventus striker just had to hit the target to beat Caballero, but somehow headed wide of the mark from four yards.

Despite this, the sides headed into the break even in score, but perhaps more luckily in number of players, as Ante Rebic was lucky to escape a red card for a poor, studs up, tackle late in the half.

The Argentines came out in the second half with more attacking intent, throwing a lot of players forward. Sergio Aguero, who didn’t touch the ball for 22 minutes of the first half, went close on a couple of occasions early on in the second period.

The lack of touches for Aguero, Messi and co symbolised the Argentine performance. With a 34-year-old Javier Mascherano and 32-year-old Enzo Perez making up the midfield duo, the Argentines lacked creativity.

The first goal came seemingly out of nothing for Croatia. Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero made possibly the mistake of the tournament, gifting possession to Ante Rebic. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder still had a lot to do, finishing in emphatic fashion past the goalkeeper making only his second competitive international appearance.

Argentina chief Jorge Sampaoli reacted by sending on Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Cristian Pavon. This left Argentina in a 5-1-4 formation, meaning Croatia’s midfield trio bossed the game from here on in. The manager who had enjoyed vast success at Chile and Sevilla, looked completely bereft of ideas, as he paced up the touchline.

Messi and co probed at Croatia, but created little other than a half chance which was duly blocked on the line by Ivan Rakitic.

Croatia remained resolute at the back and in truth, Argentina never looked like equalising.

Despite this solidity, a one goal lead against a team with the likes of Messi, Higuain and Dybala is never something you can rest easy with.

The Croats kept defending and with ten minutes to go were rewarded for their efforts when Luka Modric fired them into a two goal lead. The Real Madrid maestro curled an effort into the bottom corner, leaving Caballero helpless once more.

A goal of the tournament candidate in one of the results of the tournament, it would seem.

As the final minutes ticked on, the TV cameras panned to the likes of Diego Maradona, Jorge Sampaoli, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi, who all looked fairly expressionless.

In stoppage time, Croatia added to the misery of the Argentines. Caballero, who’s error ultimately cost Argentina, made a spectacular save from close range, however the ball fell to Ivan Rakitic who tapped home for Croatia’s third.

For Argentina, the result doesn’t send them home, but it gives them a proverbial mountain to climb. Fingers will be pointed at Caballero who made a costly error, or Messi who failed to deliver the goods, but the blame has to lie solely on the manager – Jorge Sampaoli. His tactics were poor throughout and his midfield men failed to supply Messi and Aguero with the ball.

In the studio, ex-Argentina full-back Pablo Zabaleta admitted this is the worst Argentina side he has seen in his lifetime.

Argentina may have themselves to blame for the result, but this takes nothing away from a valiant Croatia who were completely worthy of the three points.

Zlatko Balic’s side are through to the next round for just the second time since gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia. They host Iceland in Rostov on Tuesday, knowing a win will guarantee a first place finish and setup a tie against the runner up of Group C, most likely to be Denmark.

Player of the Day – Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)

Pre-match, the attention of the football world was centred around one FC Barcelona man – Lionel Messi. On the pitch, it was another Barcelona player who excelled.

Some days our picks for ‘Player of the Day’ are hard for reasons of no one really excelling to a level worthy of a section dedicated to them. Today, the pick was hard because it could have gone to many Croatia players, especially the midfield.

On stages as big as the World Cup, matches are won and lost in the midfield battle. Croatia won that battle today and subsequently won the match. Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Marcelo Brozovic – the midfield trio played a brilliant game that Mascherano and Perez could not cope with.

It could’ve gone to any of the Croatian midfield, but Rakitic was the star, by a whisker.

On the ball, the midfield maestro showed off his passing abilities in style – the sort of passing abilities you’d associate with his club Barcelona. He threaded Perisic and Rebic through more than once. On another day, he would’ve had an assist or two.

Without possession, he completed two interceptions, won four tackles and won three aerial duels. He blocked a shot on the line when the game was still open, which could’ve been a massive turning point in the game.

Barcelona fans have gave Rakitic a hard time over the years. He is not Xavi, nor Iniesta or Busquets. Even he will admit that. Yet, he is a hard working midfielder who gave it his all tonight and came up with a stellar performance on the biggest stage of them all, to cause a massive upset for Messi’s Argentina.

For the midfield options Croatia possess, we predicted Balic’s side to do well. Tonight was exemplar of that. If the trio perform as they did tonight, Croatia could go far.

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