France and Denmark knew that victory in their respective World Cup clashes on Thursday would see them safely through to the knockout stages.
Of the two sides, Didier Deschamps’ men were the only ones to book their place in the knockout stages, as a fortuitous Kylian Mbappe effort was enough to see off a determined Peru outfit. As a result, the South Americans have been knocked out with a game to spare.
Denmark meanwhile, still have a bit of work to do. Christian Eriksen’s early strike set them up for a win against Australia, but the intervention of VAR saw the Socceroos awarded a penalty for the second game running/ Mile Jedinak put it away to keep Australia in contention – though they will need to beat Peru and hope that France defeat Denmark (with the appropriate goal swing) to leapfrog the Danes into second place.
But what did we learn from an afternoon in which France strolled into last 16?
Deschamps’ tactics still leave a lot to be desired
Only a genius or a madman would select a central midfielder like Blaise Matuidi with the likes of Thomas Lemar, Florian Thauvin, Nabil Fekir and Ousmane Dembele left on the bench – and only the former could conceivably hope to get away with it. Matuidi failed to have the desired effect on that flank and that decision must go down as a serious error on Didier Deschamps’ part.
Matuidi on the left wing has to be one of the stupidest things I have ever seen at top level football.
— Rafael Hernández ?? (@RafaelH117) June 21, 2018
The manager was criticised for making too many changes for this match, moving from a 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 and changes in personnel that suggest that he is still not sure of how he wants this team to play. Expect more changes in both setup and personnel as this tournament goes on – the 4-4-2 might even get brought out at some point – but the feeling that France will progress further in spite of the manager – rather than because of him – is one that can’t be shaken.
Their forwards, however, made much more of an impression
France’s biggest problem against Australia was that their forwards failed to make a significant impact, insofar as the link-up play between the three was practically non-existent and nobody was really sure of what their role was. Antoine Griezmann, in particular, looked uncomfortable as the central striker and justified the doubts about his proficiency in that role.
Here, however, they worked much better. Dropping Griezmann deeper and utilising Olivier Giroud as the focal point worked much better from a French point of view and stretched the Peruvian defence to a greater degree. Mbappe looked much sharper too and, the Matuidi misstep aside, there was enough he to suggest that this is the system to use in games where France are expected to control proceedings.
Peru are left to rue missed chances from their last two matches
Peru’s World Cup dream came to a disappointing end on Thursday. They won plenty of new admirers with their enthusiastic style of play and energetic fans, but ultimately their record of no goals and no points from two games is all that matters when it comes down to it.
And yet, but for a bit of composure, it could all have been different. From Christian Cueva’s missed penalty against Denmark (not to mention the other 16 shots) to Pedro Aquino’s cannoned shot against the French upright, they had their chances to score at least once over the course of two games but just couldn’t put the ball in the net. Considering they narrowly lost both matches, that could have made all the difference.
They still have a part to play at these finals as they could kill off Australia’s hopes of progression, but they will always wonder what might have been here.
Pione Sisto must be allowed to share Christian Eriksen’s limelight
Eriksen is, for all intents and purposes, the leader of this Denmark side. The shining light, the creative hub, the biggest goal threat – the Tottenham man is seen as the facilitator of everything positive about this side. He’s already shown his worth to the team on the biggest stage with a goal and an assist at these finals, the latest contribution coming with a brilliant strike in the 1-1 draw against Australia on Thursday.
However, the contribution of left winger Pione Sisto shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Celta Vigo man is seen as the secondary dangerman in this Denmark side, and although Eriksen is the star of the show, Sisto made enough of an impact to warrant further attention, from the six dribbles, three shots and 92% passing accuracy. Denmark will need more than Eriksen to step up to secure a top-two finish and beyond – Sisto has gone some way to achieving that.
Australia will fight to the very end
For the second match in a row, Australia found themselves a goal down only to claw their way level (with the help of VAR). How they came about the equaliser is a story for another time, all that really matters is that they were full value for the draw and, ultimately, a share of the points.
There’s a battling quality about this Australian team that has just about kept them in contention in this group. Their response to going down in both matches was a strong one, instantly taking the game to their opponents until they received their (again, VAR-assisted) rewards.
They face a very different task next week when they will be expected to take the game to Peru, the South Americans demoralised from their early elimination but still with plenty of pride to play for in front of the thousands of fans that followed them to Russia. Undergod qualities don’t really work when you’re the favourite, so it will be an interesting test for Bert van Marwijk’s side with a place in the last 16 still potentially on the line.