Christian Cueva stepped up to take the penalty just before half-time. Minutes before, he had been tripped in the box, and after play had continued for some time the video assistant referee brought it back and awarded the fairly obvious penalty. Now, on an emotional day for Peruvian football, he had a big chance to score Peru’s first World Cup goal for over 30 years as he started his run-up on the edge of the box. He paused a few paces into his approach, did a little stutter step upon resumption, and lifted the ball clean over the crossbar. The small section of Danish supporters in the Mordovia Arena gave a small cheer. The rest of the Peruvian-dominated Saransk crowd were in complete disbelief. In the dugout, coach Ricardo Gareca sat open-mouthed as he contemplated the opportunity his side had just passed up. In the match, Peru never got a better opportunity, and failed to score despite dominating territory and putting the Danish defence under siege.
The game started very openly. There were nervous moments early as the Danish looked to settle into the game, especially when Yussuf Poulsen came close to giving away a penalty with a rough looking challenge inside the area. The Peruvians had most of the early running, passing the ball well and giving Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel something to think about with a series of ambitious but powerful shots from long-range. The most ambitious shot came from right-back Luis Advíncula, who blazed away from ridiculous distance and ended up miles away from the target. Not so trivial was a perfect shot from André Carrillo, who cut in from the right wing and forced Schmeichel into making a diving save to keep it out of the bottom corner. Carrillo and Advíncula’s purposeful overlapping play created plenty of work for Andreas Christensen, with Carrillo drifting around and creating his fair share of problems.Embed from Getty Images
Luis Advíncula sings the Peruvian national anthem before the match. Peru had not appeared in the tournament for 36 years before their clash with the Danish.
The Danish seemed to be settling, but Peru still had the best opportunities and a diving lunge from Simon Kjær was all that prevented Jefferson Farfán from finding the back of the net when Carrillo played him through. Their consistent defence meant clear-cut chances like Farfán’s were few and far between, but Peru’s excellent structure meant they couldn’t muster any early threat in attack. For the first half hour, Denmark’s lone attempt on goal was Thomas Delaney’s ambitious and ultimately wild shot from distance. Star man Christian Eriksen couldn’t get into the game, and Denmark didn’t have the fluency to find the back of the net. Then, almost out of nowhere, Peru got their penalty. After Cueva’s miss, it was a rueful Peru and a relieved Denmark who left the field at half time.
Peru had another brilliant chance to score just after the break, when Cueva found himself in behind the Danish defence with plenty of space to work with. His ball across goal gave Carrillo a chance, but he bungled his first time shot and Edison Flores’ attempt to salvage his teammates’ mistake was just as poorly-hit and limped harmlessly over the goal line. Denmark took the lead a couple of minutes later. It came on the counter, with Eriksen finding some rare space to run at the Peruvian defence and his forwards making good runs in support. With the defenders caught between a rock and a hard place he threaded a pass to Poulsen, who slipped the ball past Pedro Gallese into the back of the net. It was a simple attacking move, but it caught out an undermanned Peruvian defence with brutal efficiency. Then, as if they’d been stung, Peru begun to attack with earnest. Soon they were pressing hard and dominating the game.Embed from Getty Images
André Carrillo runs with the ball during his brilliant performance on the right wing. Carrillo used his pace and skill to his advantage and caused plenty of trouble for the Danish defence.
First, Flores drilled a shot at Schmeichel, who stuck out his left glove to deny Peru once more. Then talismanic captain Paolo Guerrero was introduced, and Peru’s all-time leading goal-scorer tested Schmeichel with a strong header mere seconds after entering the fray. Miguel Trauco found Alberto Rodríguez in the box, and his header across goal came tantalisingly close to the outstretched legs of Farfán and Carrillo. A Carrillo cross managed to evade Schmeichel, and a goal was only averted by Poulsen’s headed clearance at the back post. Guerrero’s classy backheel shot caught Schmeichel off guard, and it only missed the goals by less than half a metre. Carrillo found space in the box once again and distributed to Farfán in a dangerous spot, but once again Schmeichel and Kjær were up to the challenge and combined to clear the ball to safety. Peru came from all angles, and the Danish were pushed back deeper and deeper.
Somehow, they weathered the storm. Peru’s chances came less frequently as the game went on, and Eriksen even managed to force Gallese into a one-on-one save in the dying moments. Denmark were still defending for their lives, but Peru’s clinical build-up play gave way to desperation, and then despair as the final whistle sounded. Their win, lucky as it may have been, puts them in the box seat to progress from Group C, and their remarkably resilient defensive showing bodes well for the road ahead. For Peru, there were plenty of positives, but they will be scant consolation for a scoreline which reads, some would say unjustly, Denmark 1, Peru 0.
Saransk – Mordovia Arena
Denmark 1 (Poulsen 58)
Referee: Bakary Gassama (Gam)
Peru (4-2-3-1): Gallese – Advíncula, Ramos, Rodríguez, Trauco; Tapia (Aquino 87), Yotún; Carrillo, Cueva, Flores (Guerrero 62); Farfán (Ruidíaz 85).
Denmark (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel – Dalsgaard, Kjær, Christensen (M Jørgensen 81), Larsen; Kvist (Schöne 36), Delaney; Poulsen, Eriksen, Sisto (Braithwaite 66); N Jørgensen.
Kasper Schmeichel (in black) rises above all others to punch away a Peruvian cross. Schmeichel was in top form during Denmark’s win, keeping a clean sheet and making some crucial saves.
1. André Carrillo (Peru)
Carrillo was everywhere. He played a bit on the right and a bit on the left, contributed to defence and attack with well-thought out interceptions and incisive pieces of offensive play. He combined well with Advíncula and Farfán, and he created most of Peru’s many chances with his pace and skill. He was in good touch, and could be a scary opponent to face.
2. Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)
If there’s one person Denmark can thank for their win, it’s Kasper Schmeichel. He showed all of his skills to deny Peru time and again, breaking the Danish record (held by father Peter) for most consecutive clean sheets in the process. He looked completely comfortable against the Peruvian attack, making plenty of excellent saves and ensuring Denmark held on to their lead.
3. Jefferson Farfán (Peru)
Farfán had plenty of pace and troubled the Danish defence with his very threatening runs in behind. He showed his experience through his excellent positioning, and gave Schmeichel a serious working-over with his skill with the ball at his feet. There were multiple occasions where he was unlucky not to score, and on another day he could have had a huge impact on the scoreboard.
4. Simon Kjær (Denmark)
The Danish captain was in the right spots all day, cutting off attack after attack with his excellent tackling and his brilliant leadership. He barely gave away any fouls, and he had good presence in the air. His hard work, shown in particular by a desperate goal line block late in the game, served him well against the dynamic Peruvians and will continue to do so.
5. Yussuf Poulsen (Denmark)
For good and bad, Poulsen found himself heavily involved in both attack and defence. He did plenty of good things going forward, recovering from giving away a potentially costly penalty (and nearly conceding another) by scoring the only goal of the game. His clearance when Schmeichel was evaded by a good cross prevented a Peruvian goal and showed the value of his defensive efforts.