Kasper Schmeichel stopped. The Danish goalkeeper received the ball from Mathias Jørgensen with plenty of space, and he decided he didn’t really need to pass it on. There were French strikers there who could have pressed him, but neither decided it was really worth the effort. So Schmeichel just stood there, ball at his feet, as if he was content to hold onto it for the remaining 10 minutes of the match. At one point he made as if to kick it, tapping the ball relatively suddenly to the right. Then he thought better of it, instead choosing to bring the ball to a stop once again. Eventually it was kicked long, France won the ball, and half-heartedly attacked again. Neither team had scored, and neither seemed willing to put in the effort required to find the back of the net. In the end, both secured their passage to the knockout stages in a lifeless game which was the first scoreless draw of the tournament. It had to happen at some point.Embed from Getty Images
Thomas Delaney (left) and N’Golo Kanté battle for the ball. Delaney was often involved in tangles and received plenty of hard knocks thanks to his relentless attack on the ball.
Even before the game, a dull encounter was a real possibility. The French were already through to the knockout stages after winning their first two games, and Denmark could follow them into the last 16 simply by avoiding defeat. The French knew they were safe, and they were happy to rest some of their key players and recharge before the last 16, while Denmark weighed up the potential reward of winning (they would finish atop the group) and the potential consequences of pushing for a win and opening themselves up. Eventually both sides decided that a draw was mutually satisfactory, and neither really went to the effort of pushing to get the three points. The result was good for all involved but the spectators. It’s basically impossible to play a 90 minute football match with neither side threatening the goal, but Denmark and France did their best.
There were still some chances, of course, but they were too sparse to really make an impact. Danish star Christian Eriksen had a golden opportunity when Andreas Cornelius got free on the break and played a ball to him in the centre, forcing French back-up goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to come out of his goal and leaving the French exposed. The chance went begging thanks to the quick reactions of Lucas Hernández and the good movement of Mandanda, who was making his major tournament debut after years as the understudy to the rested Hugo Lloris. France’s best chance came when a lofted pass found Antoine Griezmann inside the box, but Olivier Giroud somehow blasted the ball over the bar when he received it from his strike partner. Griezmann was offside anyway. Ousmane Dembélé threatened to make things happen, but he never really delivered save for a couple of shots which flew harmlessly past Schmeichel’s goal. The teams entered the second half with a 0-0 draw looking like a definite possibility.Embed from Getty Images
Steve Mandanda (second from left) rises to punch the ball away from the French goal. Mandanda finally made his first appearance at a major tournament after coming in for the rested Hugo Lloris, having deputised for Lloris for years.
Eriksen had a couple more chances early in the second half, but he couldn’t find the back of the net. The first came when he cleverly bounced a free-kick just in front of Mandanda, giving Cornelius a chance when the keeper fumbled the awkward ball in a dangerous area. Shortly afterwards, he had another shot from just outside the box, but failed to hit the target. The French got a boost from the bench, but they couldn’t find the back of the net. Nabil Fekir threatened the goal seconds after entering the action in place of Griezmann, firing a shot which forced Schmeichel to dive as it flew into the side netting. Fekir forced Schmeichel into another save soon after, and fellow substitute Kylian Mbappé nearly burst through the defence with a nice run. In doing so, both showed an enterprising streak that their teammates – and the entire Danish team – had clearly decided to leave in the locker room before they took the field. Not even the substitutes’ work could distract viewers from the dullness of the affair, however, as Denmark played out the final minutes with the energy of a lethargic snail. As the game wound down, Eriksen accidently careered into teammate Viktor Fischer after overrunning the ball. It was the most exciting thing a Danish player did in the final 15 minutes of the match.
Moscow – Luzhniki Stadium
Referee: Sandro Ricci (Bra)
Denmark (4-3-3): Schmeichel – Dalsgaard, Kjær, M Jørgensen, Stryger Larsen; Delaney (Lerager 90+2), Christensen, Eriksen; Braithwaite, Cornelius (Dolberg 75), Sisto (Fischer 60).
France (4-2-3-1): Mandanda – Sidibé, Varane, Kimpembe, Hernández (Mendy 50); Kanté, N’Zonzi; Dembélé (Mbappé 78), Griezmann (Fekir 69), Lemar; Giroud.
1. Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
Eriksen was one of the only players who looked likely to make something happen, and although his impact lessened as Denmark began to shut up shop he was still at the heart of all of his team’s best attacking play. He seems to have found form at the right time heading into the knockouts.
2. Lucas Hernández (France)
After starting France’s first two games Hernández received a well-earned rest shortly after half time, but he still managed to have an impact in his short stint on the field. He was dangerous when he pushed forward, and he managed to thwart a couple of Danish attacks with good defensive work.
3. Thomas Delaney (Denmark)
Delaney was very active in the centre of the park, and his hard work meant he was always around when the ball was there to be won. He ended up on the ground after a number of heavy contests, but he was always willing to physically impose himself in his search for the ball.
4. Nabil Fekir (France)
Fekir was France’s most dangerous attacker despite only featuring for 20 minutes, and he provided a welcome spark coming off the bench. He created a couple of opportunities out of nothing, and played with an energy that few of his teammates replicated.
5. Mathias Jørgensen (Denmark)
Jørgensen came into the team to bolster the Danish defence, and he provided an excellent physical presence alongside Simon Kjær and Andreas Christensen. He competed well with the French forwards, and he mounted a strong case for his inclusion in the knockout stages with an imposing performance.