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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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