Croatia and France both topped their groups today, which means one will play against the second placed teams in the other’s group respectively. Croatia will face Denmark, who should be an opponent the impressive Croatians can take on any day. France, on the other hand, have been handed a tie with Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Double standards much!
No Thrills Group C
In Group C, France and Denmark played a scrappy game of football which ended in 0-0, the first game with this score at Russia 2018. This score meant that both teams qualified regardless of the result of Peru-Australia. If Denmark had won the game, they would have finished first instead. In retrospect, finishing second might actually have gifted the Danes with a better knock out phase game.
Australia had to rely on a France win and needed to beat Peru themselves to go through. They lost 2-0 to Peru, in what was Peru’s first win in a World Cup since 1978. The lack of attacking flair in all three games ultimately cost the Socceroos.
Dramatic Group D
Valiant Iceland believed till the end they could make. Even when they were down by one, courtesy of Milan Badelj, the minnows fought and came back in the game, only to see Ivan Perisic end their dreams in the end. Had they managed to win, even by one goal, they would have been through instead of Argentina. Nevertheless, Iceland will be remembered for their never-say-die attitude at this World Cup.
The showcase game of the day was undoubtedly Argentina vs Nigeria. Argentina needed a win to qualify, provided Iceland did not equal or better their result in the other Group D game. Things started well enough for Lionel Messi and Co as the little genius ran past the Nigerian defense to calmly control a fantastic Ever Banega pass and score with his right foot, fifteen minutes in. Messi was all over the place as he made a marvelous pass to Higuain, who should have scored, a few minutes later. In the 34th minute, Messi hit the post from a free-kick.
However, this Argentina team started going into disarray in the second half. As soon as they came back from the half-time break, Nigeria won a penalty, coolly slotted home by Chelsea’s Victor Moses. After that, the African team, who only needed a point, defended well and played on the counter to try to win the game. Odion Ighalo missed a magnificent opportunity in the 75th minute. There was also a debatable handball from Marcos Rojo in the penalty area, which the referee waved off after consulting the VAR. It looked like this was going to be Nigeria’s night.
Enter Marcos Rojo! In the 85th minute, the Manchester United center back was in the penalty box to volley Mercado’s cross and put Argentina 2-1 up. Game over! As Maradona celebrated with profanity in the stands, the Nigerians’ dreams were shattered.
Round of 16 ties
Croatia will be favorites going into the Round of 16 game against Denmark but this World Cup could surprise us yet again. Do not write off the Danes!
France and Argentina have very good squads on paper, with Les Bleus having the better balanced team. Both have not been playing at their best. France, at the very least, have shown they are defensively sound and can field a very physical midfield with the likes of the engine Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Matuidi, Tolisso and Nzonzi. Argentina’s advantage is individual talent aka Lionel Messi. Varane and Umtiti will look to use their knowledge of playing against and with Messi respectively to good use.
This could be a very long tactical battle which ends with penalties. Or France might just take advantage of Argentina’s lack of a World class goalkeeper. We cannot wait for Saturday!
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