World Cup recap: Messi missed penalty highlights talk on day 3

All eyes were on Lionel Messi on Saturday at the FIFA World Cup. Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

Penalty kicks played a part in all four matches on Saturday as action got under way in Group C and D of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. France and Argentina were two of the favorites to follow while the end of a 36-year drought for Peru and debut of Iceland were also intriguing storylines.

France 2-1 Australia

Kazan Arena, Kazan

Attendance: 41,279

This match had people’s attention because of a talented French team that included Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. France entered this World Cup with pressure because of the expectations of this team, and that pressure showed in the first half. Les Blues did not start sharp - similar to Uruguay on day two vs. Egypt - and Australia was the more dangerous team early on. Chippy play dominated much of the first half which ended in a scoreless draw.

In the second half, the Video Assistant Referee played a part for the first time ever in a FIFA World Cup. A tackle on Antoine Griezmann was reviewed and a penalty attempt was given to the French. Griezmann converted to put his country in the lead, 1-0,  in the 58th minute. Just five minutes later, a handball was called on France’s Samuel Umtiti and Australia captain Mile Jedinak converted from the penalty spot to level the score. Australia was looking to take the draw before a lobbed ball by Pogba hit the woodwork and ricocheted into goal in the 81st minute. Goal-line technology was consulted to confirm the score and over 10 minutes later, France left Kazan with the three points in hand.

Analysis: Friday’s action was a bit marred by criticism of not using the Video Assistant Referee - which may have been the case of why referee’s were less hesitant to do so on Saturday. Both of France’s goals were helped by it.

Notable stat: Saturday’s goal is Antoine Griezmann’s first goal at a FIFA World Cup.

Argentina 1-1 Iceland

Spartak Stadium, Moscow

Attendance: 44,190

The match with the most eyeballs today was going to be on this match to see how the five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi would follow up Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick performance. Fans who tuned in to Euro 2016 would also be tuning in to see how the cinderella Iceland would fare in its World Cup debut. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero opened the scoring in the 19th minute - his first World Cup goal - to put La Albiceleste up. Iceland, who had wasted a golden opportunity to take the lead early in the match, would not back down as Alfred Finnbogason would tie things up in the 23rd minute.

The second half left the biggest talking point as Iceland conceded a penalty in the 63rd minute. Of course, it was Messi who would be designated to take the spot kick. The FC Barcelona man hit it too close within the goalkeeper’s reach, and with not enough power, allowing goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson to become the hero and make the save. Argentina would generate several opportunities but would be unable to convert as an unrelenting Iceland team would make them work for every inch, with Messi double-teamed in many cases.

Analysis: This was a historic result for Iceland and a bad day at the office for Argentina. It is yet to be seen if Iceland will be able to advance, with Croatia and Nigeria also in the group, but this was a huge first step. Argentina’s achilles heel is its defense and it showed today. The point serves the South Americans as a warning but expect them to address it - maybe even make a goalkeeping change - as they move forward in the tournament. It’s not panic mode for Argentina as many teams have come back in these type of tournaments after stumbling in the first match, but other players need to step up and not be Messi-dependent.

Notable stat: Iceland is the smallest country to compete in a FIFA World Cup. The goalkeeper who stopped Messi’s penalty is also a filmmaker who directed a Coca-Cola commercial airing in his country during the tournament.

Peru 0-1 Denmark

Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Attendance: 40,502

Emotions were high as Peruvians were able to sing their national anthem at a World Cup for the first time in 36 years - many for the first time in their lives. The emotion of being on the world’s biggest stage showed for Peru, who’s best shot early came from a curving ground ball by Andre Carillo that was saved by the Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. The VAR would be consulted in the 44th minute and Peru were awarded a penalty. Unfortunately for Peru, the pressure was too much and Christian Cueva put to much power behind the kick to kick it high into the stands.

Denmark would take control of the match with a play through the left flank that RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen converted for the match-winning goal. Peru’s talisman Paolo Guerrero was brought on in the 62nd minute and provided a spark in attack, including a backheel that went just wide in in the 79th minute. The Danish team would hold to the score with their compact defensive efforts to pick up the three points.

Analysis: This is a tough pill to swallow for Peru as they probably feel like they were the better side on the day. They’ll need help from France and Australia to knock off the Dane’s to have an opportunity to jump them for a top two spot in the group. Expect Guerrero to get the start for Peru in the next two encounters. For Denmark, this was a great win in a though group and a win over Australia could virtually clinch a spot into the next round. Schmeichel was a key to their success on Saturday so the attack can feel confident in having a good defense to back them up.

Notable stat: The Denmark win marks a sixth straight result for European teams so far.

Croatia 2-0 Nigeria

Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Attendance: 31,136

Croatian vs. Nigeria was a match that looked to be the decider in who would go through besides Argentina in Group D. Neither side took real control from the start and it was and up and down game. Boasting midfield maestros like Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and FC Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić, Croatia was expected to take control of the match. Ivan Perisić had a good opportunity from outside the box in the 14th minute but, other than that, the Croatians found it hard to penetrate through the Nigerian defense. Croatia would take the lead in the 32nd minute thanks to a corner kick that ended rebonding off the foot of Nigerian defender Oghenekaro Etebo for the own goal.

The second half continued with much of the up and down action of the first half and neither team able to put a stranglehold on the result. A foul inside the box during a corner led a penalty for Croatia which Modrić converted in the 71st minute. Nigeria’s young squad - the youngest in this edition of the World Cup - would not be able to come back on the scoreboard.

Analysis: Both teams had question marks after coaching changes during qualification. In Croatia’s case, they rescue the result with an important three points and breathe a sigh of relief. The pressure moves on Nigeria, however, who will need a result in their next match because of the split points between Argentina and Iceland earlier in the day. The Super Eagles may be staring at an early exit if they cannot find a reliable forward up top.

Notable stat: It took 59 minutes for a shot on target to materialize in Croatia vs. Nigeria, the longest drought in a World Cup match.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Sunday, June 17

7 a.m. - [Group E] Costa Rica vs. Serbia (FOX, Telemundo)

10 a.m. - [Group F] Germany vs. Mexico (FS1, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group E] Brazil vs. Switzerland (FS1, Telemundo)

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