Day 8 of the World Cup saw some teams launched into the knockout stages while another team started packing their bags for the flight home. While the battle for second place in Group C intensified, a certain Frenchman delivered a powerful performance. Lastly, there was big upset as a traditional heavyweight is headed for an early exit from the World Cup.
KEY PERFORMANCE: Paul Pogba
On a night where a whopping majority of the stadium was filled with Peruvian red, the one man who stood out was wearing blue. The Paul Pogba who put Arsenal and Manchester City to the sword was seen in his natural habitat last night at the Ekaterinburg Arena, in Yekaterinburg, Russia; gliding across the pitch and playing through and around a Peruvian team which had no idea how to deal with the Manchester United man. With Matuidi and Kante to clean up behind him, Pogba was given a free role to unlock a physically strong and resolute Peruvian midfield. He did that with a style and swagger that was unparalleled. He even got the pass before the assist for Mbappe’s goal, and it has become clear that both Pogba and Les Bleus are growing with each game. Mbappe and Giroud also deserve special mentions for their efforts, but it was the former Juventus man who pulled all the strings to help France win 1-0, and will likely do so for the French for the remainder of the World Cup.
KEY RESULT: Argentina 0, Croatia 3
What a performance from Croatia’s golden generation. Straight from the whistle, the East European side were relentless in their pressing to make the most of Argentina’s passing around the back. With Willy Caballero in goal, Argentina never looked comfortable passing it out, and there were a number nervy moments before the Chelsea goalkeeper’s disastrous pass which Rebic dispatched in an emphatic manner to snatch the lead. Albeiceste coach Sampaoli was animated in his demands to his players to get things going, but he too was silenced when the Argentine midfielders failed to track back and Modric found himself in acres of space to score a beautiful second goal. While the second goal was a result of bad work rate, the third was just a product of Argentina’s lacklustre attitude, as they stopped playing in a bid to appeal for offside while Croatia kept play going to slot it into the back of the net. Caballero was calamitous, Mascherano was missing, Aguero was wasteful, Otamendi was reckless, while Messi looked distinctly disinterested. Meanwhile, Croatia put in a stellar showing- Lovren led the back line by example, Modric and Rakitic completely dominated the middle of the park, while Mandzukic and Perisic were relentless in their pressing. Argentina deserved to lose the game, and the loss means a shock group stage exit is likely for the two-time World Cup winners. Meanwhile, Croatia can look to build from the performance, as they look to leave their mark.
KEY INCIDENT: VAR’s penalty to Australia
VAR seems to be the coming of age technology that could completely change the way football is played. This was the 12th penalty of the World Cup, more than total number we had throughout the group stages in 2014. The game was extremely close, as both teams had 4 shots on target. Thanks to the penalty, the final result reflected the closeness of the game. With a 1-1 draw, Australia and Denmark will go into their last game fighting for the second place, and it will be interesting to see who comes out a winner. Whatever happens, you can rest assured that the services of the VAR will be called upon at some point.
While Croatia and France sealed qualification to the Round of 16, Peru packed their bags for home. Pogba put on a dominant display to guide the French team to a hard fought win, while Mbappe became one of the youngest scorers ever in a World Cup. The highlight of the day, however, was Argentina’s humbling at the hands Croatia. They stand a very slender chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, with Iceland likely to win against Nigeria.The players, coaches, and fans, however, shouldn’t ask how they could still qualify for the knockout round, but rather where it all went wrong for them.