Argentina required to start their campaign with a win against Iceland, considering they are in seemingly the toughest group in Russia. But the Icelanders gave a masterful display of defensive football to secure a 1-1 draw against the Argentines.
Lionel Messi, Argentina’s captain and their best player, got a chance to put the team ahead in the 64th minute, but his weak penalty was saved by Hannes Halldorsson. It shows that even Messi, the talisman, is not immune to the pressure of expectations to help Argentina lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986. There was a clear plan by Iceland to deny Messi, who is possibly playing in his last World Cup, any space and, each time he received the ball around the Icelandic goal there were at least four players tracking him.
Birkir Bjarnason, in particular, followed him like a shadow.
Even though football is more about skill than luck, the 30-year-old’s eleven shots on goal could have easily resulted in a hat-trick on another day.
Then there was the questionable team selection. Angel Di Maria and Maximiliano Meza were poor on the wings, leaving Messi and Sergio Aguero with the difficult task of finding spaces through the packed centre. Jorge Sampaoli needs to sort his team out quickly before their difficult second match against Croatia—who secured a 2-0 win over Nigeria.
Didier Deschamps holding France back
The French line up against Australia would have had fans anticipating an exciting display full of verve and creativity.
It was anything but.
In the end, a penalty and some late invention from Paul Pogba helped France sneak a 2-1 win. But the sedate French display puts manager Didier Deschamps’ tactics under scanner.
The 4-3-3 formation with Antoine Griezmann playing through the centre, despite his declarations of favouring a role behind a frontman, was a mistake, and it is no surprise that the Atletico Madrid forward wasn’t very effective against the Socceroos.
Playing Lucas Hernandez at left-back was also a questionable move, considering Benjamin Mendy contributes so much more going forward than his younger compatriot. Deschamps would do allow to N’Golo Kante move more freely.
And Nabil Fekir, on the evidence of his brief cameo as well as the last season, certainly deserves a start in their remaining games.
Andre Carrillo turns on the show
Peru brought the South American flair in their exciting encounter against Denmark and, Carrillo in particular, turned on the show from his position along the right wing. The forward was a constant menace for the Danish defence, laying off chances and attempting shots.
It was his ball to Christian Cueva that drew the missed penalty.
But the outstanding bit of his night came around the half-hour mark, when he played an exquisite one-touch through ball threaded between two defenders. The ball sat perfectly for Jefferson Farfan, but he was unable to capitalise on it. Peru might have lost 1-0, but Carrillo certainly put in one of the best individual displays at the tournament so far.
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