Premier League Watch
After a relatively low-key Premier League presence across the opening two days of the World Cup, the weekend featured a whole host of familiar faces. Not least in France’s Group C opener against Australia, where Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris produced one excellent save but could do little to stop Aston Villa’s Mile Jedinak from the penalty spot in an otherwise quiet afternoon. He will have busier days to come at the tournament – as will Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante, who operated as the holding midfielder and offered few suprises with his terrific work rate and ability to train possession for the team.
Playing ahead of Kante was Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, who offered two key contributions: first, the superb through ball from which Antoine Griezmann won the opening penalty; and second, the shot that led to an albeit fortunate winning own goal late on. His performance lacked the flair and personality many have come to expect from Pogba, but this was an effective and game-deciding display that is more likely to bring France success.
Starting opposite Pogba for Australia was Huddersfield midfielder Aaron Mooy, who offered some threat with his set-piece delivery – it was his ball into the France area that brought about Samuel Umtiti’s bizarre handball.
Later that evening, a trio of Premier League men formed the spine of Denmark’s somewhat fortunate victory over Peru in the same group. Kasper Schmeichel made some smart saves in his team’s 1-0 win, offering a calm presence behind a back line featuring Anders Christensen; the Chelsea defender had to be on his game to deal with Peru’s rotation and movement in attack, although he couldn’t prevent a number of chances on the night and will have to be better with France looming. Tottenham playmaker Christian Eriksen wasn’t at his creative best as his team struggled to impose their game on energetic South American opponents, his efforts naturally overshadowed by those of matchwinner Yussuf Poulsen.
Elsewhere, a pair of Premier League winners with Manchester City featured in underwhelming performances from the South American giants. Nicolas Otamendi was part of the Argentina defence that failed to properly defend the space between the six-yard box and edge of their area against Iceland, while central striker Gabriel Jesus failed to register a single shot in Brazil’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland. The eternally divisive Mesut Ozil will again have split opinion in Germany’s shock 1-0 defeat to Mexico, for whom West Ham forward Javier Hernandez led the line superbly.