Premier League Watch
Denmark may not have got the victory they needed against Australia to qualify with a game to spare, but Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen was instrumental to his team’s display. Although the Danes looked for the direct pass from Simon Kjaer to Nicolai Jorgensen plenty often enough, everything that went through their midfield came from Eriksen – whether that was high-quality crosses into the box, clever link-up play with Jorgensen or, of course, a well-struck finish for the game’s opening goal.
Behind Eriksen, Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel dealt well with almost everything Australia threw at him, notably making a string of saves in the closing minutes. He dived the wrong way for the equalising penalty, however, which was a second in as many games for Aston Villa midfielder Mile Jedinak.
France secured their spot in the last 16 with a 1-0 win over Peru. On the day he won his 100th international cap, Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had only one meaningful save to make, from Peru captain Paolo Guerrero in the first half. Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Chelsea man N’Golo Kante built on their encouraging starts against Australia; the former played some excellent penetrative passes beyond the back line for Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, while the latter proved typically hard to beat and broke up plenty of Peruvian attacks.
Ahead of them, Kante’s Chelsea teammate Olivier Giroud looked like he may be France’s missing piece. Didier Deschamps’ men looked much more of a threat with Giroud as a focal point than they did against Australia; his hold-up play and runs into the channels to link up with both Griezmann and Mbappe were difficult for Peru to deal with.
Later on Thursday evening, two English-based centre-backs experienced very different games. Nicolas Otamendi may have been given absolutely no help at all by his midfield (see Tactics Truck below) as Croatia ran riot against Argentina, particularly for a superb second goal scored by Luka Modric, but the Manchester City defender won only 50 per cent of his challenges and an even worse 38 per cent of his aerial challenges.
At the opposite end of the pitch, Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren continued the strong form with which he finished the domestic season, repeatedly getting the better of Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and later Gonzalo Higuain. The Croatia centre-back’s desire to recover and restrict the angle of a potential shot – he was beaten by a pass or dribble only twice all night – made it a difficult afternoon for the Argentina forwards.