MOSCOW (CNN) – Nearly 40 matches had been played, but the World Cup served up its first goalless game on Tuesday, a result which ensured that 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 that they only needed a point to advance alongside Les Bleus, but Didier Deschamps’ side did the job that was expected of them by heading the table.
Meanwhile, tournament contenders such as Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina have all struggled in one form or other.
But, if Argentina and Lionel Messi beat Nigeria in Group D later Tuesday, and Iceland fails to overcome likely group winners Croatia, it would indeed bring up a 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 like a side in disarray.
France have hardly set the World Cup alight and, for that, Deschamps has come under some criticism. Among the changes that he made were resting three players in yellow card danger — including Paul Pogba — and replacing keeper Hugo Lloris with Steve Mandanda.
Denmark manager Age Hareide declared before the World Cup that France, despite their individual talents, were “nothing special.” His verdict may not have changed, as France was hardly free-flowing, again.
But the Danes hardly flattered either. Content to sit back for much of the affair, Denmark nonetheless had the best chance of the match when Christian Eriksen went through on goal in the first half on a counterattack. Mandanda and fullback Lucas Hernandez, though, accounted for the threat as Denmark appealed for a penalty.
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.
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