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
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
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
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
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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