World Cup Recap: Day 13

Messi helps Argentina avoid elimination; Peru bids emotional farewell

Leo Messi and Argentina advanced. Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

The big question heading into Tuesday was if Lionel Messi would show up for Argentina. The feeling ending the day would be how far Argentina can really go in the knockout stage of this 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Australia 0-2 Peru

Fisht Stadium, Sochi

Attendance: 44,073

Australia would be looking to qualify with help while Peru - already eliminated from advancing - would look to award their traveling fans with a win after a 36-year World Cup drought. The latter would be the result as the Fisht Stadium in Sochi would be filled with celebratory Peru fans. The Red-and-White immediately went on the attack before Andre Carrillo would score Peru’s first World Cup goal since June 23, 1982 in the 18th minute of this match. The Aussies would produce the most shots in the first half but would not find the back of the net. The half ended 1-0 Peru.

In the second, Australia continued to look for the win - especially because they had hope France would hold back Denmark in the other encounter. In the end, Peru showed better quality and would clinch the result with a 50th minute goal by legendary striker Paolo Guerrero. For those who don’t know the story, Guerrero had initially received a one-year suspension form FIFA last November after testing positive for a banned substance. The Peruvian striker fought the suspension and had it frozen after captains from the other three teams in the group wrote a recommendation letter on his behalf. Guerrero’s lifted suspension allowed him to play in this World Cup, and help Peru to a 2-0 win over Australia.

Analysis: Australia wasted a really good opportunity to go through, despite being outplayed in their first two matches. All the Aussies had to do was win on Tuesday and they would have been in. They couldn’t get it done. Legend Tim Cahill - Australia’s top goalscorer - will likely retire from international play, leaving the national team dry of a reliable striker. It’s somewhat of a rebuild time for Australia but they will hope not to be a country that struggles to return to soccer’s biggest spectacle.

For Peru, there was no better exit than a win. The people of Peru have longed to see their team at a World Cup, most have never seen it in their lifetime. The win meant everything. Paolo Guerrero may never be back so a goal and assist for the country’s biggest servant of the sport was only just - and it came to be. Peru played well enough to win the group, they just didn’t produce the end result. Now, the federation must act to build on this World Cup appearance with a stronger squad at Qatar 2022.

Notable stat: Peru won its first match at a FIFA World Cup since the 4-1 win over Iran at Argentina 1978.

Denmark 0-0 France

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Attendance: 78,011

If you didn’t watch this match, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. What should’ve been a back-and-forth slugfest between two solid European foes turned out to be a disappointment between two sides that took the “safe” way out. Seven shots in total were generated in the first half with two shots on target, both by France.

The second half saw a better attacking effort from the French, who are among the likeable sides to win the tournament, but no side would ever find the back of the net. The match would end in the first scoreless draw of Russia 2018.

Analysis: France has not impressed this World Cup, at least not to me. One of the more talented groups in this tournament should have swept this group with nine points. They were helped by VAR to beat Australia, albeit in a fair fashion, and narrowly beat Peru. Luckily, they will get an Argentina side that is more Hyde than Jekyll. Even so, Argentina has special players in Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi. Not that France doesn’t but guys like Pogba, Mbappe and Griezmann will need to show their quality - on the World’s toughest stage - if France are to go far.

This was actually a positive result for Denmark. Given expectations, Denmark will feel good about advancing to the round of 16 from a tough group. Eriksen is a good player, Schmeichel is a really good goalie but that’s pretty much the only special players the Danes have. No one will give them two cents to advance past Croatia, which is doable because it’s a European rival. Denmark needs other players to step up for a win in the Round of 16 but, other than that, they have exceeded expectations.

Notable stat: This was the first scoreless draw since the Netherlands 0-0 Argentina draw in the semifinals of Brazil 2014. It also took 36 matches to get to this draw, breaking the previous record of 26 matches.

Nigeria 1-2 Argentina

Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg

Attendance: 64,468

Unless Iceland pulled an upset, the second place in Group D would come down to the potential winner of this match. After the nervy initial ten minutes, Lionel Messi would open his Russia 2018 account with a goal worthy of the greats in the 14th minute. It would send Argentinians into a frenzy and keep them hopeful that things would turn around. Messi would get a free kick opportunity but Nigerian keeper Francis Uzoho would get a touch on it to deny the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. The half would end 1-0 Argentina.

The drama would ensue five minutes into the second half. After video review, Nigeria would be awarded a penalty. Victor Moses would convert the spot kick to tie the game 1-1 and send nerves through the Argentinian fanbase. Iceland would draw Croatia in the other group match that was occurring simultaneously, leaving Argentina out of the next round. Marcos Rojo would score in the 86th minute to calm the worries of the South American fans before Croatia would clinch a win in their match Argentina won 2-1 and finished second as a result.

Analysis: This is far from the way Argentina fans, and pundits, expected the group stage to go. Considering the drama off the field that ensued after Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Croatia, including players reportedly asking for the manager to be sacked, things worked out pretty well. Making the goalkeeping change to Armani was a must that should’ve happened after the draw with Iceland, and the stability in goal made a difference. Argentina has new life and should consider it a clean slate as they face France on Saturday.

In the case of the Super Eagles, it was going to be tough to qualify with a very young - and inexperienced - squad. Nigeria may feel robbed after a secondary VAR ruling was did not award them a penalty in the second half. Still, Nigeria had destiny in their hands and simply did not show the class to outplay Argentina.

Notable stat: Lionel Messi became the third player to score in three World Cups for Argentina, joining legendary Albiceleste strikers Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta.

Iceland 1-2 Croatia

Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don

Attendance: 43,472

The question in this match was what would be the demeanor of the Croatia squad - would they come out and win or rest some players with a clinched knockout berth. Croatia sent out a strong squad but would not show as much attacking prowess as Iceland, which was expected. Iceland generated more scoring opportunity as they were looking to qualify. The half would end nil-nil.

Milan Badelj, referred to as the “new Luka Modric,” put the Croatians up in the 53rd minute. Things would get interesting when a penalty call was awarded to Iceland late in the half. Gylfi Sigurdsson would take advantage of the spot kick to level things at 1-1, leaving Argentina out.  Even when Argentina scored, Iceland just needed a goal to win and clinch a knockout berth. Unfortunately for the cinderella team, Real Madrid’s Ivan Perisic would play the villain and score Croatia’s game-winner in the 90th minute.

Analysis: Croatia had very little to play for, unless Nigeria would sniff a win against Argentina. In the end, a very talented Croatia won the group that Argentina was favored by most to win. The Croatians will face Denmark in the round of 16, a match where the Croatians will be favored, and should advance to face the Spain-Russia winner. Could they win it all? If they’re ever going to win one, this is their best chance.

Iceland may feel shorthanded, wanting to go as far as possible in their first World Cup outing. The fact is, just getting here was respectable. Iceland dared to dream because of their run at EURO 2016 and would have the support of neutrals but they are still far from the elite. The next step for Iceland is to return to the European Championship tournament and make a run there before aspiring to Qatar 2022. If there’s something they’ve shown is that they are willing to put in the work to make it happen.

Notable stat: Croatia won their group for the first time at a FIFA World Cup.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, June 27

9 a.m. - [Group F] South Korea vs. Germany (FS1, NBC Universo)

9 a.m. - [Group F] Mexico vs. Sweden (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group E] Serbia vs. Brazil (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group E] Switzerland vs. Costa Rica (FS1, NBC Universo)

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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