Russia Review: Day Thirteen

We’ve seen goals, drama and VAR decisions aplenty, so what could Day Thirteen possibly serve up that was unique to its past counterparts?

Unfortunately, one of those things was a first goalless draw of the tournament. But for every dull affair comes a dramatic tale, told this time through the eyes of Argentina’s marvellous magician.

We may be saying a fond farewell to the colourful and atmospheric Peru who the planet have fallen in love with, but Day Thirteen belonged to another – one team, and one man in particular.

Danes through with France after bore draw

France and Denmark cemented their positions as first and second place in Group C after playing out the first goalless draw of this summer’s World Cup.

Both sides only needed a point to achieve their respective aims and were greeted with a chorus of boos from around the Luzhniki Stadium at full-time after an uninspiring game.

The first half started slow, and got even slower when positive news for Denmark came from the group’s other game in Sochi.

Denmark did have a half-chance on around 30 minutes however – ex-Cardiff City striker Andreas Cornelius was given the nod ahead of the rested Nicolai Jørgensen and looked handy up front. He played a beautifully weighted low cross into the middle which Christian Eriksen seemed destined to get on the end of, but a combination of goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and defender Lucas Hernandez was enough to clear the danger.

France came close moments before half-time as Antoine Griezmann got onto the end of a long ball over the top and teed up Olivier Giroud, but he fired over and the offside flag was then later raised.

Les Bleus were left frustrated at the end of the half as Griezmann then went on an impressive run from a Denmark corner, leading the French charge, but he was cynically brought down in the Danish half and the referee didn’t allow time for the free-kick to be taken, signalling an end to a dull first 45 minutes.

Despite second spot looking all-but assured for Denmark, they started the second half brighter.

Eriksen saw a long-range free-kick spilled by Mandanda who recovered just in time to deny Cornelius the chance to tap in, and the pair then combined again minutes later as Tottenham’s playmaker fired a powerful volley just wide.

Liverpool target Nabil Fekir came on for France with a quarter of the game to go, and looked the most likely route to goal for his side.

Within moments of coming on he fired an effort from outside of the area into the side netting and then with just under ten minutes remaining he produced a curling shot which was beat away by Kasper Schmeichel.

The game petered out after that as boos rang around the 78,000-strong Moscow crowd, with both sides content to play out the draw, which extends Denmark’s unbeaten run in international matches to an impressive 18 games.

Both teams will know they need to improve however in their next matches, with the Danes looking to reach the last-eight of a World Cup for only the second time and France searching for their first back-to-back quarter-final appearances since 1986.

Peruvian pride sends Aussies packing

Eliminated Peru were in record-breaking mood against Australia as they scored their first World Cup goals since 1982 whilst winning in the competition for the first time in 40 years.

The South Americans’ 2-0 success means Australia bow out of the competition, but even a win for the Socceroos would have been in vain due to Denmark’s draw with France.

Peru had been guilty of failing to take chances in their opening two games which ultimately saw them knocked out before today’s match-up, but they showed more of a cutting edge against the disappointing Australians.

After just 18 minutes, captain Paolo Guerrero brought down a long ball from midfielder Yoshimar Yotun before crossing to the back post. He found an unmarked Andre Carrillo – one of the Peruvians’ stars of the tournament – who smashed a brilliant volley across Mat Ryan and into the far corner to spark wild scenes in Sochi.

That early blow meant the Aussies needed to score at least two goals in response to stand any chance of making the last 16 for only the second time in their history, but they lacked inspiration.

Tom Rogic registered one of only two shots on target in the whole game after a mazy run but it was easily saved by goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, and Christian Ramos was then the Peruvian hero after preventing a Robbie Kruse pull-back from finding Mathew Leckie a couple of yards out.

Then five minutes into the second half, the game was well and truly up for Australia.

Edison Flores paced his way into the box before looking for Carrillo. His pass was blocked, but spun away to the fortunate Guerrero, who took his moment by volleying in off the leg of defender Mark Milligan.

Aziz Behich came closest to a response when he half-volleyed wide from a corner, but even the entrance of Tim Cahill – appearing in his fourth World Cup – couldn’t spark an Aussie comeback.

Christian Cueva hit the post late on as Peru searched for a third to crown it, but ultimately they didn’t need to, as the South Americans comfortably beat Australia in the first meeting of the two sides, with both wondering what might have been after elimination from the tournament.

New Argentinian savour Rojo sends Albiceleste to knockouts

Argentina and Lionel Messi progressed to the Last 16 of the World Cup by the skin of their teeth on Tuesday after an 86th minute striker from defender Marcos Rojo gave them a 2-1 win over Nigeria to eliminate the African nation.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side looked to be heading home after Victor Moses’s penalty cancelled out a brilliant effort from Lionel Messi in the first half, but the half-volley from defender Rojo shattered the hopes of a nation.

The Argentines started much better than their last two games, zipping the ball about the pitch in style and finding a way to get Lionel Messi on the ball as much as possible.

Messi fired Argentina into an early lead on 14 minutes with his first goal in Russia. Ever Banega, who was restored to the team for this one, found him with a sumptuous pass over the top and the Barcelona forward obliged in true Messi style, taking two deft touches, before firing the ball into the far corner with his right foot.

Not long later, Messi hit the post with a free-kick that goalkeeper Francis Uzoho got a slight touch on.

Gonzalo Higuain, who was preferred over Aguero for off-the-pitch reasons, missed his first of many chances when Messi slotted him through on goal with the young Nigerian goalkeeper, who came out on top.

At half time, Argentina were heading through.

However, the tables were turned five minutes after the restart when Javier Mascherano grappled with Leon Balogun in the box from a needlessly conceded corner. After reaffirming with VAR, the referee awarded Nigeria a penalty.

Victor Moses coolly sent Armani the wrong way to bring the scores level and put Nigeria into the last 16, as it stood.

Nigeria had chances to win it, perhaps none more than Ighalo who fired wide of Armani’s goal from close range. The ex-Watford man missed again a few minutes later, when he struck his shot straight at the River Plate goalkeeper.

Gonzalo Higuain had (what seemed) the chance of the match when the ball rolled across to him, but he sent a shot sailing into the stands. Running in behind him by the penalty spot gearing up to shoot was Messi, but Higuain took the chance and couldn’t dispatch.

That felt like the end – a telling and sad end for the Argentinians.

But, with four minutes to go, Gabriel Mercado crossed from the right and Marcos Rojo thumped a sweet volley into the bottom corner with his weaker foot.

The Manchester United man was now playing left-back, as Tagliafico had been taken off. Why he was in that space in the box is unknown. Of anyone – Aguero, Messi, Higuain – it was Marcos Rojo.

Argentina’s unexpected hero ran and celebrated, Messi erupted and followed him, leaping on his back.

Messi, who carries Argentina so often, was carried by Rojo and paraded around the pitch much to the joy of thousands of fanatic Argentina supporters, including an overjoyed Diego Maradona in the stands.

Argentina are into the last sixteen in dramatic fashion, the late goal covers the cracks that were evident for the majority of the second half.

Jorge Sampaoli will be forgiven on this opportunity for his decisions. His tactics have been widely criticized, rightly, but credit has to be given for picking Ever Banega, who was excellent throughout.

To beat France, though, Argentina will need to be much better. Cristian Pavon and Sergio Aguero are two names heavily asked for by Argentinian fans to start that game.

Perfect Croatians eliminate Iceland

Croatia end their group stages with a perfect record thanks to Ivan Perisic’s 90th-minute goal in a 2-1 win over Iceland, which ultimately ended the hopes of the debutants.

Boss Zlatko Dalic fielded the youngest Croatia team at a World Cup, making nine changes from the side that historically beat Argentina on Thursday. Only goalscorer Perisic and Luka Modric kept their places in the starting team.

Needing just a point to top Group D, Croatia dominated the early stages, creating chances at ease and seemingly playing better due to the lack of pressure.

One of the many changes was Fiorentina striker Milan Badelj, who first clipped the bar with a long-range strike, but made no mistake a minute later.

The 29-year-old fired a superb volley past Halldorsson to give Croatia the lead.

Iceland needed to win to have any chance of progressing, a feat which the nation has never managed before – although have only had two chances in fairness.

They responded well, but struggled to find a breakthrough.

Then, in true Icelandic fashion, they shocked us all when they did find that breakthrough. Dejan Lovren handled a cross in the penalty area and the referee gave a penalty.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, who woefully fired a penalty over against Nigeria, dispatched his shot into the roof of the net in style, sending Kalinic the wrong way.

Iceland, knowledgeable of the score in the other game in the group in St Petersburg, threw everything forward to get the win.

This ultimately costed them, as Ivan Perisic delivered the final blow as he was sent into space on the left, before blasting a shot into the top corner.

The Perisic goal ended both the game and Iceland’s World Cup hopes, who ended the night with a famous thunderclap.

Croatia, who we at PomonaFutbol dubbed as the underdogs of the tournament, advance to a winnable match against the Danes in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.

Player of the Day – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

At the third time of asking, Lionel Messi delivered.

The Argentina man insisted after the match he was always confident his side would find a way past Nigeria to stay in the World Cup, yet his relief and euphoria celebrating the goal and the full time whistle suggest differently.

His goal tonight was not one of the flashy long-distance piledrivers, but it was still one of the best of the tournament.

Rewind five seconds from the ball bulging the net, Messi is walking across his marker. The defender has him in sight, situation under control. Then, within half a second, he is gone. Messi spins his man at a right-angle and is through on goal. Ever Banega plays the ball over the top, in exquisite fashion, Messi takes a deft touch or two and smashes past the helpless goalkeeper.

Minutes later, Messi hit the post with an excellent free-kick from a position we have seen him score from many times this season. If Higuain’s finishing was better, Messi would have an assist or two to his name.

It wasn’t going Argentina’s way in the second half, but Messi as captain stepped up and rallied his team to victory.

After the game, Marcos Rojo admitted that Messi told the rest of the players that they all have a duty to score, ordering them to shoot at any position. This inspired Rojo to take the shot with all the power he had.

Messi gave everything he had, and his reward is a place in the Last 16. It will be tough, but with this man on form, who knows what may happen?

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