GAMES 37, 38, 39 & 40

49.St George Stadium, Sydney.jpg

Australia 0-2 Peru

  • And so we wave goodbye to the Socceroos. It was a Herculean ask for them to qualify but, after the France game, it seemed to be a genuine possibility. However – and it’s a big however – while their organization and discipline has been much better than expected, they’ve got very little up front. “We got a lot of compliments for the way we play, only you don’t win games with compliments,” said coach Bert van Marwijk. It’s impossible to read that and not feel a little sad.
  • It’s absolutely right though. Goals, that’s what you need. And so it wasn’t a huge surprise when plucky Peru stepped up to bag a brace. The first came via the Home Counties – sort of – as Watford winger André Carrillo volleyed into the Australian net. It was a finish that highlighted the quality that Peru can produce – however it was also shot through with a vague sense of regret. Too little, too late.
  • Guerrero, whose doping ban was lifted so he could compete at the World Cup (as mentioned in their first game report), got the second in fine style which I guess kind of vindicated the lengths that people went to in order to make sure he was on the pitch.  At 34, he’s unlikely to get another chance, especially if Peru wait another 36 years to qualify for one.
  • There was something to celebrate however (not for Australia, obviously, it was just tragedy and heartbreak in that camp) as Peru celebrated their first World Cup win since 1978 when they beat Iran 4-1 in Argentina. Those were the days, 38 games in a tournament back then… that seems more, oh, I don’t know… manageable?



Denmark 0-0 France

  • The first nil-nil draw of the tournament and every bit as bad as that sounds. Quite possibly the worst game of the tournament. The first point is really just to say that I’m going to struggle to find four points to make without losing the will to live. Literally the most interesting thing about it was this goalless farce at least had the good grace to wait 36 comparatively decent games before turning up to the party in a French strip and absolutely nothing else.
  • Didier Deschamps’ tactics may have been hard to watch, but France top the group and remain unbeaten. I haven’t been counting the number of minutes they’ve looked any good at all, but I’m guessing it’s fewer than 20 – and all of them against Peru.
  • Watching a team like France play such a wilfully boring game was like going to a Neil Young concert only to find out that he’s showcasing a brand new album of Coldplay cover versions. 
  • Denmark will face Croatia, while France will line up against Argentina. In any other World Cup, this second tie would be a phenomenal prospect, but bearing in mind today’s events, I imagine most people will be tuning in for a chance to see Maradona and the effects of the sleeping pills and wine, or whatever euphemism the Argentinian camp is using these days.

Nigeria 1-2 Argentina

  • Speaking of Maradona… we heard he'd had to be seen by a doctor after the game and wish him well. We hope that whatever ailed him last night (be it the aforementioned white wine and sleeping pills or, as is heavily rumoured, heroic amounts of bugle) has cleared up. I would also just like to point out that the “finger of God” incident (as we’re now calling it) where Maradona flipped the bird to Nigeria fans at the end of the game didn’t look like the actions of a man on soporifics. Quite the opposite in fact. I mean Jesus! I’ve gone from a standing start to overarching anxiety just thinking about the state of him – imagine what it must be like to actually be Maradona.
  • Nigeria will feel pretty hard done by, and it’s hard to argue with them, but even with their so-so form so far and rumours of in-camp discord you can’t discount Argentina. They have arguably the best player in the world, capable of turning matches around with a single pass.
  • Which, in a way, he did. Apparently Banega’s inclusion in Argentina’s starting line-up was at Messi’s request. His perfect lofted pass into the path of Messi for the first goal was vindication enough of the decision and, one suspects, will do much to paper over any unsightly cracks in morale… for now at least.
  • After Chelsea’s Victor Moses kept a cool head at the penalty spot, things were looking pretty grim for Argentina. Grimmer than they had for a while. Really grim. On top of this, Nigeria did a lot right and looked like they would hold on. However, World Cup 2018 is, as discussed before, the tournament of the late goal – step forward Marcos Rojo with a sweetly taken strike that broke thousands of hearts, including, we feared for a bit, Maradona’s. And that’s very much where we came in…



Iceland 1-2 Croatia

  • With all the drama and incident happening in Saint Petersberg, it was understandable that this tie, though no less important to the group standings, would be slightly forgotten. Context is everything however, and the Rostov Stadium, we thought, could be the place where Iceland, the smallest country competing at the World Cup finals, could make history. Iceland, whose European Championship run, a run that included a win against England and saw them progress to the quarter-finals, brought a genuine sense of giant-killing magic to the game, could go through at the expense of both Nigeria and Argentina.
  • This sense was amplified still further after Gylfi Sigurdsson scored an equalising penalty late on, and the news of Marcos Rojo’s strike in Saint Petersberg started to come in. Iceland needed another, it was hearts in mouths, it was hope upon hope, it was daring to dream.
  • And then, in the 90th minute Perisic scored. Great goal, job done, see you later. Iceland out with no time to come back. If I were still a headline writer, I’d say something like: “Iceland frozen out by a cool Croatian performance”. But I’m not, so I wont.
  • Without wanting to damn with faint praise, Iceland gave it a good go and, like Australia, the team will surely take some pride in their achievements. Ultimately, however, Croatia had more firepower and Iceland, like Australia, had almost none. It puts me in mind of Aristotle, the Father of Western Philosophy, who famously said: “You can’t bring a peashooter to a gunfight, lads, or you’ll get properly fucking tucked up.”