France 2-1 Australia
Day 3 brings with it four games and a huge amount of heart. To honour this, and show that we listen and respond; we’ll breathe in rhythm with the game and change the format a little. To reflect the Soceroos discipline and positional craft, we’ll be offering you four points per game. Points that move, as if harnessed by some invisible logical bond, to an undeniably rational conclusion.
Yep, basically, it’s the weekend and we’re busy.
Telling you this, of course, breaks the precious fourth wall (difficult to do on a blog, to be fair), but then Brecht would have approved, and you generally get a better audience at a football match than you do at an opera house.
So, without more ado:
- Going into this match, Deschamps’ Didier-men would have been confident of progressing from the group stages without too much trouble. Nearly 200 years after Napoleon failed to take Russia with nearly 700,00 men, could 23 really be expected to do the job though? It was a big ask. People would have thought that Pogba would have been key – if he could find anything approaching consistency, they could prove unstoppable though, to be fair, they’re far from a one-man team.
- By contrast, Australia made tough work of the qualification process, playing 22 games to get to Russia, but they proved equally resilient and tireless – up to almost exactly 82 minutes. Not enough, perhaps, but still surpassing the work-rate one would expect from a nation so famously laid back that they take a half-day holiday for a horse race.
- Too many draws and too few goals were the main issues for the Socceroos in qualifiers. Going in to this, it was clear that, if they ended up playing too deep, they could find themselves ripped apart like a quiche at a WI finger buffet. They didn’t. With amazing discipline and a genuine sense of artistry, they played their defensive line high and harnessed it beautifully to the midfield. It worked for the most part and they deserved much, much more than the scoreline dictated.
- France were many people’s favourites coming in to this tournament but, in truth, their recent form doesn’t really warrant it. This game proved that. Not to take anything away from Australia, who played far better than anyone could have expected, France looked like the sort of team that Spain or Portugal would kick from arseholes to breakfast time. The VAR controversy surrounding the first penalty (it was no more controversial than Ronaldo’s impression of a Jenga tower last night) notwithstanding, France were, in short, lucky to get the points.
Argentina 1-1 Iceland
- The hand of God, the hair of Kevin Keegan and the self-restraint of Shane MaGowan… Maradona and the World Cup are forever intertwined since the greatest tournament proved the perfect platform for arguably the sport’s greatest player. And although Lionel Messi might argue the toss on that call, we’d argue that hoofing a load of gak at half-time isn’t what anyone could accurately refer to as ‘performance enhancing’ – up your game Lionel. Regardless, the smart money would have been on Argentina pissing their group, but history don’t mean shit these days.
- After a phenomenal Euro 2016, Iceland topped their qualifying group on their way to Russia. This boded well for a country whose support could barely fill out a provincial multiplex cinema. Much was made of the fans’ “thunder clap” chant which, if you haven’t seen it, accurately answers the age-old question, “what does We Will Rock You sound like after five Xanax and half a bottle of gin?”
- The hand of God, in this game was the hand of Hannes Halldorsson. Don’t believe for a second the narrative that claims Messi missed. He didn’t – the penalty he was awarded was saved, and brilliantly. It was, crucially, saved by a man (of the match) whose day job is “film director”. At this point, every person involved in the creative industries must throw their weight behind Iceland or forever be labelled “dangerous dissenter”.
- “Context is everything” once said a wise man (it was me actally, just then). So, fair dos, let’s provide some. World cup debutants hold hugely fancied team to a 1-1 draw. Messi did nothing to suggest that he’s the best player in the world and, despite the massive height advantage, Iceland didn’t have to rely on this in neutralising the Argentinian threat. Instead, it was organisation and belief, the same territory on which Australia chose to fight France. These decisions may yet make this the best World Cup in living memory.
- Fifth point. Sorry, but hey, it’s our blog and we never claimed consistency – well, apart from that bit above where we did. But anyway, forget that, for now… The point is that I’m not entirely sure that Pogba’s goal was even his. It looked for all the world that the deflection actually steered the shot. Had it not figured, the ball wouldn’t have gone in. Only an opinion, but a correct one I think we can all agree.
Peru 0-1 Denmark
- Their first finals since 1982, plucky Peru should count their lucky stars that their captain and star player, Paolo Guerrero, is playing at all. His year ban, for suspected cocaine use, was halved after some pretty odd courtroom scenes involving some 500-year-old mummies and claims about cocoa leaves. It’s the first time a woman that old ensured a happy ending for a football player since Wayne Rooney decided he needed a back rub.
- Meanwhile, Denmark had Nicklas Bendtner staying at home with groin strain, so it was down to Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen to realise his nation’s dream. Was he to be – or not to be – Denmark’s crown prince? If so, would it be through prolific goalscoring, or a spiteful contempt for his mother after she marries his dead father’s brother, leading to his a borderline sociopathic lust for revenge that sees innocents die? It is, in a very real sense, anyone’s guess.
- The 34-year-old forward Guerrero ended up on the bench – always the bridesmaid… It looks very much like a bad decision in retrospect. As for Eriksen, his nifty assist fed through to RB Leipzig forward Poulsen secured the three points with the kind of assurance normally reserved for middle-class white men who have been to Cambridge. It’s a shame as the best team lost.
- I haven’t really got a fourth point. It’s late and I was at a neighbour’s house until midnight doing sambuca shots. To be honest, it’s a miracle that I’m still able to write. Having said that, Guerrero's backheel was close to being the best thing I saw all day. One game to go, let's press on, shall we?
Nigeria 0-2 Croatia
- Some of the Croatia fans who travelled to France in 2016 would happily start a fight at a school fete. The flare ups – both figurative and, indeed, very literal – at Euro 2016 were not the tournament’s finest moments. Tonight seemed fairly innocuous but, if hooligan problems become an issue, FIFA have previously forced Croatia to play behind closed doors. The worry is that this could lead to a small, far-right racist element stalking the streets of a major Russian city, their attitudes marking them out as some kind of informal community support officer programme to Russia’s main police force.
- In the event of tonight's match, such worries proved needless, as Croatia beat a lacklustre Nigeria with Oghenekaro Etebo's own goal and Luka Modric's penalty proving the difference. Like Ronaldo, Modric had to put non-football worries (in his case a charge of perjury and a possible custodial sentence) to one side. I'm not sure what the connection is between high-pressure pending court cases and improved performance, but I suggest that the lacklustre Croatian forwards try to get arrested before the Argentina game. Either grand theft auto, shoplifting, or simply holding hands in public should do the trick.
- As for Nigeria themselves, despite being ranked 43 places below group favourites Argentina, we all know they can produce quality. They showed as much when they came back from a two-goal deficit to win 4-2 in a friendly between the two teams last November – although, to be fair, Messi didn’t figure. Nevertheless, it would have felt like sweet revenge bearing in mind Argentina have booted Nigeria out of four of the last five World Cups. While we wouldn’t stake the mortgage on the Super Eagles flying quite so high after tonight’s performance, Nigeria could still get through the group, bearing in mind Argentina's performance against Iceland.