France wins Group C after serving up Russia 2018’s first goalless game

Nearly 40 matches have been played at Russia 2018, but the World Cup served up its first goalless game Tuesday, a result that ensured France topped Group C after a drab 0-0 stalemate against Denmark.

Ireland manager and television pundit Martin O’Neill described the opening half between France and Denmark in Moscow as “absolutely dreadful” — the Danes knew going in they only needed a point to advance alongside Les Bleus — but Didier Deschamps’ side did the job expected of them by heading the table on seven points.

This while tournament contenders such as Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina have all struggled in some form or other.

But if Argentina and Lionel Messi beats Nigeria in Group D later Tuesday and Iceland fails to overcome likely group winners Croatia, it would indeed bring up the France-Argentina tussle in the first knockout phase.

And given the individual brilliance of Messi, a turnaround wouldn’t be discounted even if Argentina currently looks in disarray.

Special win for Peru

Peru were already eliminated prior to the final group-stage matches but finished third in Group C with a 2-0 victory over Australia in Sochi in a battle of the last two teams to qualify for Russia. Peru lasted tasted World Cup success at the 1978 World Cup.

Australia had hopes of progressing to the knockout stages prior to kickoff but were undone early and will leave Russia with a single point.

Andre Carrillo netted Peru’s first World Cup goal in 36 years with a stunning volley in the first half when set up by Paolo Guerrero before captain Guerrero doubled the advantage early in the second.

The Socceroos needed a win and Denmark loss to have any chance of advancing to the second round yet finished last instead, their only two goals at this World Cup coming from the penalty spot courtesy of Mile Jedinak.

France have hardly set the World Cup alight and for that, Deschamps has come under some criticism.

Among the changes he made were to rest three players in yellow-card danger — including Manchester United’s Paul Pogba — and replacing keeper Hugo Lloris with Steve Mandanda.

Denmark manager Age Hareide declared before the World Cup that France, despite all their individual talent, were “nothing special.” His verdict may not have changed as France were hardly free flowing — again — but the Danes hardly flattered, too.

“We tried to play, to win,” France’s man-of-the-match midfielder, N’Golo Kante, told French television, according to L’Equipe. “We were against an organized team that looked for the 0-0 and got the point. We qualified in first place and that’s what we wanted. We must appreciate it.

“We tried but it’s the same problem each time. We play against a low line, who play counters.”

Eriksen chance

Content to sit back for much of the affair, Denmark nonetheless likely had the best chance when star player Christian Eriksen went through on goal in the first half on the counter. Mandanda and fullback Lucas Hernandez, though, accounted for the threat as Denmark appealed for a penalty.

“We just needed a point and were up against one of the best counter-attacking teams in the world, so we would have been stupid to come out and attack,” Hareide told reporters after Denmark made the second round for the first time since 2002. “We’re very pleased with the 0-0.”

Olivier Giroud — starting alongside Antoine Griezmann in the French attack — ballooned over the bar late in the first half and Mandanda spilled Eriksen’s long-range strike in the second half before gathering.

Around 45,000 fans from Peru made the long trip to Russia to support their side. Peru were unfortunate not to earn a point — at least — against Denmark in their opener as the lively Christian Cueva missed a penalty and they spurned opportunities against France last week.

But the supporters were at least able to celebrate one win to back up their entertaining play.

“The team that has ended up with three points, Peru, probably played the best” in the group, according to Hareide.

Tears of joy

Carrillo connected sweetly and his volley in the 18th minute to the far post had one fan in tears — of joy.

VAR was in the spotlight — more so than usual in Russia — Monday in Portugal’s contentious 1-1 draw with Iran and didn’t intervene after Carrillo’s goal when it appeared as if there was an offside in the buildup. Australia’s hopes of keeping only a second clean sheet in 16 World Cup games vanished.

Guerrero — Peru’s all-time leading scorer granted a reprieve to play at the World Cup after a drug suspension — put Australia away in the 50th minute with a left-footed finish from close range for his 35th goal.

Australia repeatedly huffed and puffed but like several other nations at the World Cup, lacked the clinical finish.

Temporary Australia manager Bert van Marwijk resisted calls earlier in the group stage to insert leading goalscorer Tim Cahill but the former Everton forward finally made an appearance Tuesday. Too late, for some — to begin the second half.

He almost scored in a fourth World Cup but his volley midway in the second half was blocked.