World Cup Day 3 roundup: Messi misfires, VAR takes center stage

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What happened today

Following the dizzying heights of yesterday’s tour de force from Cristiano Ronaldo and the stars of Spain, we saw the big teams and big stars fall a bit flat in Saturday’s action.

France limps past Australia on VAR decisions

Despite coming away with a win, France looked lackluster in their opening game against Australia.

It was Les Bleus asking the questions in the first half, but Didier Deschamps’ star-studded team was unable to break the deadlock against the Socceroos. The breakthrough came in the second half, when France was awarded a penalty after VAR adjudged Josh Risdon to have fouled Antoine Griezmann in the box. Griezmann stepped up and lashed his penalty past keeper Mathew Ryan.

But Australia were awarded a penalty of their own moments later after VAR confirmed a handball from Samuel Umtiti. Mile Jedinak stepped up and rolled a low ball past keeper Hugo Lloris to make it 1-1. VAR was called into play again for what proved the winner, as video review confirmed Paul Pogba’s 81st-minute deflected strike had crossed the line to make it 2-1.

France’s Antoine Griezmann scores the penalty goal during the group C match between France and Australia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, Saturday, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
France’s Antoine Griezmann scores the penalty goal during the group C match between France and Australia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, Saturday, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Messi misses PK as Argentina held to draw by Iceland

Sergio Aguero put Argentina ahead with a 19th-minute deflected shot. But Alfred Finnbogason pulled one back just moments later, netting Iceland’s first-ever World Cup goal. Despite dominating possession, Argentina couldn’t find a way through the Iceland defense for a go-ahead goal. What looked like the breakthrough finally arrived on the hour mark, when Argentina were awarded a penalty. The stage was set perfectly for Lionel Messi to be the hero. But the Barcelona maestro stepped up and let off a weak shot that was easy pickings for keeper Hannes Halldorsson. The miss was Messi’s fourth in his last seven attempts from the spot. The game finished 1-1 and as Iceland celebrated, Messi meandered off wearing the hangdog expression we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him with at major tournaments.

Poulsen fires Denmark past Peru

VAR and missed penalties were a running theme Saturday. In their first World Cup game in 32 years, Peru were awarded a penalty against Denmark based on a VAR call. Unfortunately, Christian Cueva blasted his effort over Kasper Schmeichel’s crossbar.

Still, the South Americans looked the sharper of the two sides, dominating possession and creating more opportunities. Despite this, they fell behind on the hour mark when Christian Eriksen flicked the ball into the path of Yussuf Poulsen who side-footed what proved the game-winner past keeper Pedro Gallese.

Mandzukic inspires Croatia to win over Nigeria

Mario Mandzukic was the difference-maker as Croatia opened their World Cup with a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over Nigeria. The towering Juventus striker got his head onto the set-piece that resulted in Oghenekaro Etebo’s unfortunate own goal just past the half-hour mark. He also drew the foul in the box that resulted in the 71st-minute penalty that was coolly converted by Luka Modric.

Why it matters

Despite turning in a performance that was far from vintage, France still looks in control of Group C. While Deschamps’ boys in blue weren’t fantastic, they weren’t bad either, and you get the sense that they have another gear (or three) to hit. Denmark got the job done against Peru and is in a strong position to follow France into the Round of 16, especially if they beat Australia in their next match. Peru, on the other hand, needs a result against France to keep its World Cup dream alive.

Over in Group D, Argentina suddenly look the most at risk of all the pre-tournament favorites of not making it out of its group. Messi looked broken as he walked off the pitch and that’s bad news for an Argentina team that somehow remains utterly reliant on him. Croatia, who now tops the group following their win over Nigeria, will certainly smell blood in the water after watching Messi and Co. held by what is, supposedly, the weakest team in the group.

GIF of the day

Often, when soccer players handle the ball, they’ll attempt to deny it. Case in point: Diego Maradona claiming his handball against England at the 1986 World Cup was the result of the “Hand of God.” Not so with Samuel Umtiti. The France defender knew he was caught “red-handed” with the handball that resulted in Australia’s penalty, and he owned it in an Instagram story.

Samuel Umtiti poked fun at his blatant handball (Photo via Instagram).
Samuel Umtiti poked fun at his blatant handball (Photo via Instagram).

Tweet of the day

Arsenal legend and current TV pundit Ian Wright is all of us in his reaction to Messi’s penalty miss against Iceland.

Goal of the day

Was it the prettiest goal of the day? Probably not. But Alfred Finnbogason’s equalizer against Argentina was Iceland’s first-ever goal in a World Cup.

 

What happens tomorrow

Costa Rica vs. Serbia

Costa Rica were one of the surprise packages of Brazil 2014, topping a group that contained three former World Cup champions in Italy, England and Uruguay. But the Ticos’ element of surprise may not work the second time around. Goals were never their strong suit. Opening their tournament against a steely Serbia side will be a good indication of whether or not they can execute coach Oscar Ramirez’s disciplined, defensive gameplan to defy the odds in a second consecutive World Cup.

Brazil vs. Switzerland

Mighty Brazil gets its World Cup underway as it takes on a Switzerland side that squeaked into the tournament on the back of a 1-0 aggregate playoff win over Northern Ireland. While the Swiss are no strangers to soccer’s biggest showcase, this is their fourth consecutive appearance at the finals, and they have nothing like the firepower of Brazil. The Swiss would be foolish to attempt an open game against the Selecao and will likely rely on the rigid, defensive discipline they’re known for. But will that be enough to withstand the coming onslaught from Neymar and Co.?

Germany vs. Mexico

Germany is the overwhelming favorites as it begins its title defense against a talented Mexico side that’s the class of CONCACAF. But El Tri will be no walkover. And Juan Carlos Osorio’s team might find encouragement in the fact that Jogi Loew’s side has managed just one win in its last six games. For the champions, the time to shake off the rust has arrived. Having seen Argentina and France come out of the gate lukewarm, Germany have a golden opportunity to stamp its authority on this tournament with a win over Mexico.

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