World Cup diary 2018 – Friday 22 June
Only one place to start really and that is the last game of Thursday’s action, involving Argentina and Croatia at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Much has been made in the press of the image of Lionel Messi with his hand pressed against his head as the camera passed down the Argentina team line-up. Was he stressed? Did he have a headache coming on? Could he not face the camera? Was he merely offering a prayer? And this is where the image becomes determined by the outcome of the game. Argentina put in a lacklustre performance, are soundly beaten by Croatia and therefore the automatic assumption of the press is that Messi was stressed, weighed down by the expectation of a nation and once more has to carry the team through another game. For all his quality and records at Barcelona, the World Cup stage has not brought out the best of Messi and it looks like his final fling at becoming a World Cup winner is about to vanish.
With all the attention on how poor Argentina were, the absolute blooper by ‘keeper Willy Caballero (what a wonderful chip to set up the volley) and the lack of impact of Aguero and substitute Higuain made, Croatia haven’t been given the credit they deserved. The volley by Rebic was technically brilliant and Croatia’s second by Modric one of the best goals of the tournament. By the time Rakitic fired in the third in stoppage time, Argentina were a bewildered rabble who could only stop and watch as their humiliation was completed.
However, despite having only a point after two games in Group D, Argentina know that qualification for the knock-out stage can still be achieved. Don’t cry for me Argentina? Well not yet at least.
Elsewhere yesterday, two games in Group C, with Australia up against Denmark and France taking on Peru. Denmark went ahead against the Aussies with a well worked strike from Christian Eriksen, only to be pegged by a dubious penalty for Australia. The Aussies appeal was half hearted as the ball appeared to be headed at the arm of Poulsen, with no intent as far as I could see. For me a case of VAR not working and not making the right decision as the penalty rate continues to rise in the competition.
Finally to France against Peru, where Les Bleu did enough to earn a 1-0 win courtesy of a scrappy goal from Mbappe in the first-half. The French at times showed great flair, but struggled at other times with the physicality of the Peruvians, who huffed and puffed but couldn’t find an equaliser. At least half-time provided a couple of comedy moments, with Patrice Evra’s bow-tie and sweater combo a sight to behold and the fact that his two ex-Manchester United colleagues, Messer’s Giggs and Keane looke so bloody miserable. Do they know they are getting paid to watch football? If Patrice needs fashion tips he should have looked no further than the kit the Peru side wore against France, surely one of the most iconic kits in World Cup history.
Anyway, the weekend approaches and the build-up to England’s game will start to build up, but before that The Three Lions nemesis from Euro 2016, Iceland are in action against Nigeria, completing the second round of games in Group D. Whilst the other two games today see Group E encounters between Brazil and Costa Rica and Switzerland and Serbia. Serbia and Brazil to win? Or is there a banana skin awaiting Neymar?