Denmark go through as France settle for bore draw

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.

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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.

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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
Denmark 0
France 0
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.

Top 5
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.

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2018 FIFA World Cup Preview – Group C

Group C

Teams (world ranking in brackets): France (7), Australia (36), Peru (11), Denmark (12)
Fixtures:
France vs Australia, Kazan Arena, Kazan
Peru vs Denmark, Mordovia Arena, Saransk
Denmark vs Australia, Cosmos Arena, Samara
France vs Peru, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg
Denmark vs France, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Australia vs Peru, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi

France

Head Coach: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Previous Appearances: 14 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014)
Best Finish: Champions (1998)
Qualified: UEFA, 1st Group A
Qualification Top Scorer: Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann (4)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), 16. Steve Mandanda (Marseille), 23. Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain).
Defenders: 2. Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart), 3. Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), 4. Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid), 5. Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), 17. Adil Rami (Marseille), 19. Djibril Sidibé (Monaco), 21. Lucas Hernández (Atlético Madrid), 22. Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City).
Midfielders: 6. Paul Pogba (Manchester United), 8. Thomas Lemar (Monaco), 12. Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), 13. N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea), 14. Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), 15. Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla).
Forwards: 7. Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), 9. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), 10. Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint-Germain), 11. Ousmane Dembélé (Barcelona), 18. Nabil Fekir (Lyon), 20. Florian Thauvin (Marseille).

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Antoine Griezmann bows to supporters after France’s semi-final win over Germany at Euro 2016. Griezmann scored twice in the match on his way to becoming the tournament’s top-scorer.

After coming incredibly close to winning at home in Euro 2016 (they were edged out in extra time by Portugal) the French didn’t have too many issues booking their spot in Russia as their quality allowed them to stay well ahead of their misfiring opposition. Now they’re here, Les Bleus will be incredibly hard to beat. Coach Didier Deschamps has selection quandaries in just about every position. Hugo Lloris is one of the few guaranteed starters, and the experienced goalkeeper will be hard to get past. Shielding him is a back four consisting of some top-level defenders, with centre-backs Raphaël Varane and Samuel Umtiti both proven performers. In midfield, Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) and Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich) will compete for three spots, with one of them stiff to miss out. Meanwhile an attack of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé and young gun Kylian Mbappé (plus a couple of others) is likely to terrorise opposing defences with pace and skill. Perhaps the scariest thing about Deschamps’ side is, with 15 players aged 25 or less, they’re still peaking.

The French did, however, come off a qualifying campaign that was not all smooth sailing. A 50-yard winner from Ola Toivonen led to an embarrassing loss to Sweden, and they were held by minnows Belarus and Luxembourg along the way. Such lapses could prove costly in the World Cup, where they can’t just wait and let their quality assert itself. Many of their players haven’t featured at the World Cup before, and this dangerous combination of inexperience and expectation could prove costly. They still lack a top-class full-back on either side, and none of Benjamin Pavard, Djibril Sidibé, Lucas Hernández or Benjamin Mendy have much international experience. Since winning the World Cup in 1998, France’s efforts in the tournament have been inconsistent, and it would not be unheard of for them to collapse out of the blue.

Star Player: Antoine Griezmann

Griezmann is coming into his prime, and the diminutive striker can make a big impact in Russia. He is a complete forward who has pace, skill, an eye for goal and the ability to create chances for his teammates. His six goals at Euro 2016 helped take the French to the final, and with a more dynamic attack alongside him at the World Cup he could be an unstoppable force.

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Paul Pogba shoots during a World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. Pogba has struggled since joining Manchester United, amid questions over his best position.

Key Player: Paul Pogba

How do you solve a problem like Paul Pogba? Two seasons ago, the powerfully built central midfielder was the hottest commodity in European football, and attracted the heftiest transfer fee in history to move from Juventus to Manchester United. Since then, he’s been…alright. His physicality can overshadow his immense technical ability, and he can hit the scoresheet while simultaneously providing assists. If he plays at his best, he could carry France to the World Cup. Will he?

One to watch: Kylian Mbappé

It turns out Mbappé’s remarkable breakout season with Monaco was no fluke, and that’s bad news for all of France’s opponents. At just 19, he is coming off his first season with Paris Saint-Germain, where his scoring barely dropped off despite the quality of his new teammates. For France, he is likely to play on the right wing, but he is capable in the centre and will be very dangerous.

Verdict

This French team is exciting and a very dangerous opponent. There is a ridiculous amount of talent all over the park, and if they can convert that talent into results they could cruise to a second World Cup title.
Likely Team (4-3-3): Lloris; Sidibé, Umtiti, Varane, Mendy; Kanté, Matuidi, Pogba; Mbappé, Griezmann, Dembélé.

Australia

Head Coach: Bert van Marwijk
Captain: Mile Jedinak
Previous Appearances: 4 (1974, 2006, 2010, 2014)
Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Qualified: AFC, 3rd Group B (beat Syria and Honduras in play-offs)
Qualification Top Scorer: Tim Cahill (11)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Mathew Ryan (Brighton and Hove Albion), 12. Brad Jones (Feyenoord), 18. Danny Vukovic (Genk).
Defenders: 2. Milos Degenek (Yokohama F. Marinos), 3. James Meredith (Millwall), 5. Mark Milligan (Al-Ahli), 6. Matthew Jurman (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), 16. Aziz Behich (Bursaspor), 19. Josh Risdon (Western Sydney Wanderers), 20. Trent Sainsbury (Grasshoppers).
Midfielders: 8. Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers), 13. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), 15. Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), 17. Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City), 22. Jackson Irvine (Hull City), 23. Tom Rogic (Celtic).
Forwards: 4. Tim Cahill (Millwall), 7. Matthew Leckie (Hertha Berlin), 9. Tomi Juric (Luzern), 10. Robbie Kruse (VfL Bochum), 11. Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds), 14. Jamie Maclaren (Hibernian), 21. Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets).

If it’s all about the journey, then Australia haven’t had a great World Cup experience. Their journey was about as hard as it gets, spanning 22 matches and proving a hard slog at every turn. Then their coach resigned. Bert van Marwijk is still getting used to his new side after taking over from Ange Postecoglou, but the Dutchman has pedigree at this level and can get the side in shape. On the pitch, there’s plenty to like. Aaron Mooy is coming off a brilliant season with Huddersfield Town in the Premier League, and he can unlock defences with his remarkable vision. He will be well supported by captain Mile Jedinak and Massimo Luongo in midfield, and Tom Rogic is a dangerous player in attack. Mathew Ryan is a solid goalkeeper, and will be well protected by classy centre-back Trent Sainsbury. In-form attackers Andrew Nabbout and Daniel Arzani will give the team a fresh edge alongside Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruse, and Tim Cahill is a talisman who can find big goals.

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Tim Cahill rises to score against Syria in World Cup qualifying. Cahill is no longer a regular part of the starting line-up, but the veteran still has an impact off the bench.

The Australians will, however, face an uphill battle to make it through. Postecoglou’s sudden departure has left a void even though his attack at all costs strategy was part of the reason for the Socceroos’ arduous road to Russia. Adding to the pressure on van Marwijk is the temporary nature of his position (Graham Arnold will take over after the World Cup), and this could impact results. In a tough group, Australia’s defence is unproven, and van Marwijk has little time to add the steel the side desperately lacked in qualifying. It is unclear who the team’s best striker is, with Tomi Juric developing a propensity for missing chances and Cahill coming off a season where he barely played for either Melbourne City or Millwall. This missing link means the brilliant work of Mooy is often wasted, something Australia cannot afford to happen if they want to take it up to giants like France.

Star Player: Aaron Mooy

Mooy’s first season in the Premier League has shown he is more than capable of adjusting to high-level competition, and his hard work in midfield may well be Australia’s only chance of escaping a tough group. His ability to pick out an incisive pass rivals some of the best playmakers at this World Cup, and he is a set-piece specialist who can hit the target from range and reads the play well.

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Aaron Mooy (right) and Mile Jedinak celebrate after Jedinak’s goal against Honduras in Australia’s final qualifier. Mooy and Jedinak will be a key part of Australia’s campaign.

Key Player: Mile Jedinak

Jedinak was Australia’s second-highest scorer in qualifying (showing the benefits of being a regular penalty taker) but his defensive qualities are far more important. Jedinak has plenty of experience and is almost never caught out of position, allowing him to clean up counter-attacks with ease. His work as a holding midfielder will be a crucial part of Australia’s defensive set-up in Russia.

One to watch: Daniel Arzani

Arzani hadn’t played for Australia before his call-up to the World Cup squad, but the 19-year-old winger is coming off a brilliant season for Melbourne City and could well be the spark the Socceroos need. He is quick, skilled and has the ability to provide for his teammates, and he has the potential to shine at this World Cup if given the opportunity.

Verdict

Most of the 2006 golden generation is now gone, and van Marwijk’s younger team has some established players in European teams. Whether that will be enough is another question, and the Socceroos need their stars to fire.
Likely Team (4-2-3-1): Ryan; Risdon, Sainsbury, Milligan, Behich; Jedinak, Luongo; Leckie, Mooy, Kruse; Nabbout.

Peru

Head Coach: Ricardo Gareca
Captain: Paolo Guerrero
Previous Appearances: 4 (1930, 1970, 1978, 1982)
Best Finish: Quarter-finals (1970)
Qualified: CONMEBOL, 5th (beat New Zealand in play-offs)
Qualification Top Scorer: Paolo Guerrero (6)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Pedro Gallese (Veracruz), 12. Carlos Cáceda (Deportivo Municipal), 21. José Carvallo (UTC).
Defenders: 2. Alberto Rodríguez (Junior), 3. Aldo Corzo (Universitario de Deportes), 4. Anderson Santamaría (Puebla), 5. Miguel Araujo (Allianza Lima), 6. Miguel Trauco (Flamengo), 15. Christian Ramos (Veracruz), 17. Luis Advíncula (Lobos BUAP), 22. Nilson Loyola (Melgar).
Midfielders: 7. Paolo Hurtado (Vitória de Guimarães), 8. Christian Cueva (São Paulo), 13. Renato Tapia (Feyenoord), 14. Andy Polo (Portland Timbers), 16. Wilder Cartagena (Veracruz), 18. André Carrillo (Watford), 19. Yoshimar Yotún (Orlando City), 20. Edison Flores (AaB), 23. Pedro Aquino (Lobos BUAP).
Forwards: 9. Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo), 10. Jefferson Farfán (Lokomotiv Moscow), 11. Raúl Ruidíaz (Morelia).

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Jefferson Farfán celebrates after scoring in Peru’s play-off with New Zealand. Farfán will be a key member of the Peruvian attack in Russia.

In March last year, the idea of Peru breaking their 36-year World Cup drought was inconceivable. They sat eighth in South America, and needed a miracle to progress to their first tournament since 1982. They got it, taking 11 points from their last five games and picking up another three after a previous loss to Bolivia was overturned. In the end, they snuck into the play-offs, where progression against New Zealand was never in doubt. Since qualification, the good news has continued to flow. Captain and all-time leading scorer Paolo Guerrero’s doping ban has been stayed, allowing him to take the field in Russia. His presence will add to an attack that already includes dangerous wingers Jefferson Farfán and André Carrillo. Yoshimar Yotún and Renato Tapia provide a solid central midfield presence, and Ricardo Gareca has put together a tight-knit group that has not lost a game since 2016. They are solid all over the park, and they could make an impact.

The Peruvians will, however, suffer from a lack of experience at the top-level. Their competition with other South American teams will serve them well at the tournament proper, but a lack of players in Europe’s top leagues could be an issue. The World Cup will come with much greater pressure than anything the players have ever faced, and this could test the bonds that have built up in the last 18 months. The distractions surrounding Guerrero’s court cases (in the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Court) could also affect the squad, especially with the drama hanging around for as long as it has. In general, Peru are short on quality around the park, especially with key players Guerrero and Farfán both past their respective primes. This was reflected in their start to qualifying, during a campaign which didn’t get off the ground until their frenetic final run. If they are to progress, they will need their defence to step up in a big way.

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Captain Paolo Guerrero sings the national anthem before a qualifier against Colombia. Guerrero was suspended for the World Cup, but his ban has since been stayed to allow him to play in Russia.

Star Player: Paolo Guerrero

After a lengthy legal saga, Guerrero is free to play in Russia. The 34-year-old has been an inspirational leader for Peru, and such is his popularity that news of his impending suspension spurred protests in the streets of Lima. He has scored more international goals than any other Peruvian, and his presence at the World Cup will have a big impact on the team.

Key Player: Christian Ramos

Ramos, along with Alberto Rodríguez, has a key role to play in the Peruvian defence. He is a proven performer with 66 caps’ worth of international experience, and his solidity at the back underpins Peru’s success. If they are to progress to the knockout stages in Russia, Ramos and the rest of the defence will need to be at their best.

One to watch: Renato Tapia

Tapia is a versatile player who has featured prominently for Peru since making his debut as a 19-year-old in 2015. Now 22, Tapia is a key part of Peru’s midfield, and has the ability to play in defence if required. His experiences with Feyenoord in both the Dutch top flight and European competition will serve the Peruvians well as they look to make their mark.

Verdict

Peru may struggle to progress, but they have good team unity and Gareca is an excellent coach. With talisman Guerrero free to play, they could be a dangerous opponent.
Likely Team: Gallese; Advíncula, Rodríguez, Ramos, Trauco; Yotún, Tapia; Carrillo, Cueva, Farfán; Guerrero.

Denmark

Head Coach: Åge Hareide
Captain: Simon Kjær
Previous Appearances: 4 (1986, 1998, 2002, 2010)
Best Finish: Quarter-finals (1998)
Qualified: UEFA, 2nd Group E (beat Republic of Ireland in play-offs)
Qualification Top Scorer: Christian Eriksen (11)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), 16. Jonas Lössl (Huddersfield Town), 22. Frederik Rønnow (Brøndby).
Defenders: 3. Jannik Vestergaard (Borussia Mönchengladbach), 4. Simon Kjær (Sevilla), 5. Jonas Knudsen (Ipswich Town), 6. Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), 13. Mathias Jørgensen (Huddersfield Town), 14. Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford), 17. Jens Stryger Larsen (Udinese).
Midfielders: 2. Michael Krohn-Dehli (Deportivo La Coruña), 7. William Kvist (Copenhagen), 8. Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen), 10. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur), 18. Lukas Lerager (Bordeaux), 19. Lasse Schöne (Ajax).
Forwards: 9. Nicolai Jørgensen (Copenhagen), 11. Martin Braithwaite (Bordeaux), 12. Kasper Dolberg (Ajax), 15. Viktor Fischer (Copenhagen), 20. Yussuf Poulsen (Leipzig), 21. Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta), 23. Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo).

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Christian Eriksen celebrates one of the goals in his hat-trick during the last game of World Cup qualifying. Eriksen was Denmark’s leading scorer, and he is their best player.

Denmark travelled to Dublin for their last game of qualifying needing a win to progress to Russia, and Christian Eriksen stepped up with a brilliant hat-trick to send them through. Eriksen has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, and the attacking midfielder has developed into one of the world’s best. His creative talents mixed with a dangerous attack of Nicolai Jørgensen, Yussuf Poulsen and Andreas Cornelius will make for a potent mix. The rise of young guns Pione Sisto and Kasper Dolberg only adds to the depth at Åge Hareide’s disposal, and the Danish should not be short on goals. Down back, Simon Kjær and Andreas Christensen are a solid centre-back pairing backed up by quality defenders in Jannik Vestergaard and Mathias Jørgensen, and Kasper Schmeichel is a tough player to beat in goal. With a pair of strong holding midfielders in William Kvist and Thomas Delaney holding the team together, the Danish will be a very tough side to face.

There are some problems that Hareide will need to solve, however. The full-back situation is a major worry, with no clear starter on either side of the defence. Jens Stryger Larsen, Jonas Knudsen and Henrik Dalsgaard are all options, but none of them have made a spot in the side their own. The problems got so bad that Christensen was shifted to right-back for the all-important second leg of the play-offs, a scenario which is far from ideal. There are some issues in midfield, and while Kvist and Delaney are both imposing players in defence they can struggle to transition into attack. This is combined with a potential over-reliance on Eriksen, who scored nearly half of Denmark’s goals in qualifying. None of Hareide’s potential attacking options at the World Cup contributed more than two, and this could spell trouble if the side’s creative fulcrum is shut down.

Star Player: Christian Eriksen

Eriksen has developed from a classy playmaker to a bona-fide superstar in the last couple of years, and his hat-trick in the decisive qualifying game dragged Denmark into the final tournament. He has incredible vision, brilliant technical ability and the ability to provide a goal-scoring threat from distance, and he can be tough to stop if he gets going. He could be the player that sets Denmark apart in a competitive group.

Key Player: Thomas Delaney

Delaney has the potential to make an impact in both attack and defence, and he showcased his skills in qualifying with a hat-trick against Armenia. He has been in good form since moving to Werder Bremen, and Denmark will be relying on him to provide a strong midfield presence and give Eriksen some much-needed support in Russia. If he plays at his best, the Danes will be a formidable side.

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Thomas Delaney (right) battles for the ball during a friendly against Germany. Delaney will be a key player in the Danish midfield at the World Cup.

One to watch: Kasper Dolberg

Dolberg is a dangerous attacker who knows how to find the back of the net, and at just 20 he has a big future ahead. His performances this season weren’t quite as impressive as his first season at Ajax, but the versatile frontman has tremendous upside and can add something extra to the Danish attack. He could be the x-factor for Denmark in Russia, and he has the talent to make an impact.

Verdict

Denmark are a solid side all over the park with few glaring weaknesses, and they will be a hard team to beat. If Eriksen gets going and things fall their way, they could make a run into the knockout stages.
Likely Team (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Dalsgaard, Kjær, Christensen, Larsen; Delaney, Kvist; Poulsen, Eriksen, Sisto; Jørgensen.

Prediction

This group should be fairly tight, although the French are likely to go through comfortably barring a sudden and calamitous collapse (it can never be ruled out). For the rest, it is an intriguing race. Denmark are a solid side with established players, while Peru and Australia are largely unknown quantities heading into the tournament. The Australians are unlikely to make an impact without a big improvement defensively, and the match between the Danish and the Peruvians may be the one to watch. The Danish look like the best of the chasing pack, and the class of Eriksen may just separate them from their rivals. If anyone can take points off the French, they will probably move into the box seat.
1. France, 2. Denmark, 3. Peru, 4. Australia

Kane bags three as Spurs cruise home

The score was 3-0. Harry Kane had two goals already when he found Dele Alli on the edge of the area. Alli, one of the most exciting players unearthed in England for years, received the ball and stopped, leaving the defenders who now crowded around him in limbo. From a standing start he lifted it over all of them, finding Kane with pinpoint accuracy. All Kane had to do was get a boot on it and allow it to trickle in. Ben Foster, in the West Brom goal, half-stuck out a leg to stop it. He had performed admirably, but now he had given up.

It would be hard to find anyone who could blame him. West Brom had started the match against Tottenham Hotspur hopeful of a good result, but in the end they were extremely lucky that they only lost 4-0. From the word go, Spurs played as if there was no opposition, dominating possession and cutting through West Brom’s stacked defence with almost contemptuous ease. Kane nearly scored in the first five minutes, getting on the end of a brilliant cross from Danny Rose and almost directing it into the bottom corner.

A few minutes later they were ahead, with Kane finishing after a brilliant pass from Christian Eriksen. He controlled it at close quarters before slotting it into the top corner, past a sliding Jonas Olsson and a diving Foster. Spurs had the lead, and they needed to stay in control.

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Collision: Jonas Olsson (right) attempts to block Kyle Walker’s attempt at a volley.

Things only got worse for West Brom after Spurs opened the scoring. The hosts were brimming with confidence, and they continued to hold the ball and sustain the pressure. Salomon Rondon, West Brom’s sole striker, was so isolated he may as well have celebrated every time he actually touched the ball. Worse still, he probably had the time. Meanwhile, Kane was in everything as Spurs forced a string of corners. Once he was tripped by Olsson as the long-haired Swede looked to hold him back at a corner. Referee Anthony Taylor called nothing. Kane had a chance when Victor Wanyama put a dangerous ball into the box, but Foster managed to deny him.

That the second goal was adjudged to be an own goal should take nothing away from Spurs. It started with Danny Rose, who beat a couple on the break before giving it to Eriksen. Both continued moving forward, and after Kyle Walker put in an excellent pass both Rose and Eriksen touched the ball before Eriksen’s shot was deflected past Foster by McAuley, the Northern Irishman who could not take a trick. Later on in the piece, he was clearly tripped by Walker, and when he complained to the assistant he was booked for dissent. It was that kind of day.

Kane, Alli and Eriksen, however, could do no wrong. Shortly after Spurs doubled their lead came the biggest disappointment of the match, when Alli had a goal disallowed for offside. Eriksen lifted it over the top, and Alli’s touch was sublime as he diverted it past Foster with the side of his boot. Unfortunately, it didn’t count for anything, but it still summed up the first half-hour perfectly.

Kane would have a couple more chances in the first half, but he was still yet to add to his first goal as the sides went to the break, West Brom down 2-0 and completely and utterly beaten. Tony Pulis made some changes at half-time, and they came out much improved, but things changed very little. Even with a bit more possession, their best chance of the game came when Darren Fletcher was presented with an open goal. An open goal from just inside halfway, that is.

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Too easy: Harry Kane (front) scores his third goal as Craig Dawson desperately tries to stop him.

Soon Spurs had worked out the change in shape, and they were back to their old ways. Alli was denied a penalty when he was pushed by Craig Dawson, and suddenly the chances were coming again. One Eriksen corner drew shots from Kane, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, and forced two great saves from Foster. Then Kane turned Olsson after an incredible display of skill from Alli, and Foster was forced into another brilliant stop.

Every time Spurs had the ball they looked as if they would score, such was their assurance in how they went about their business. Kane was fouled by Olsson as he looked to break through, a foul which may have drawn a red card if it had occurred closer to goal. Wanyama forced a great save from Foster, before Kane slotted his second.

Once again, it was Alli who started it, playing a long ball down the right wing which Walker pursued with vigour. McAuley got there first but was hurried off the ball, allowing Walker to put the ball in for Kane. Foster had inexplicably come off his line, and he was nowhere near it. Finally, the result was beyond all doubt.

Kane added his third shortly after, and received a much-deserved ovation as he left the game in the ninetieth minute, replaced by Son Heung-min. For Spurs, they put in a performance worthy of the title contenders that they are, and seem to be finding their feet as the end of the season creeps upon us.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 4 (Kane 12, 77, 82, McAuley 26 og)
West Bromwich Albion 0
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Tottenham Hotspur (3-4-2-1): Lloris – Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen (Davies 64); Walker, Wanyama, Dembele (Winks 83), Rose; Eriksen, Alli; Kane (Son 90).
West Bromwich Albion (4-2-3-1): Foster – Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Brunt (McClean 54); Fletcher, Yacob; Chadli (Robson-Kanu 62), Morrison, Phillips (Field 90); Rondon.

Top 5
1. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Kane was everywhere from start to finish, bagging a hat-trick and allowing Spurs to ram home their early dominance with his excellent finishing. He combined brilliantly with Eriksen and Alli, and he fully deserved the standing ovation he received when leaving the field.
2. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eriksen was in top form throughout, directing everything and creating huge problems for West Brom with his skill and vision. He was unlucky not to be credited with Tottenham’s second goal, and he will be looking to keep up his excellent form in weeks to come.
3. Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
Alli was on top of his game, showing incredible skill and setting up Kane’s third goal with a brilliant lofted pass. He had a beautiful finish disallowed for offside, and his combination with Kane and Eriksen was a key part of Tottenham’s success.
4. Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Walker was excellent as a right wing-back, taking Matt Phillips out of the game and pressing forward to open up the midfield for Spurs. He assisted the third goal with an excellent cross, and his energy in both attack and defence was outstanding.
5. Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion)
Foster was the main reason West Brom only lost 4-0, making a string of brilliant saves and keeping the lead at 2-0 for most of the match. He conceded a couple of goals at the end, but in a game where the presence of most of his teammates was non-existent he can hold his head high.

Spurs push hard but can’t find a way

Georges-Kevin N’Koudou played a desperate cross into the box. It was the 96th minute, the scores were level and Tottenham Hotspur had one last roll of the dice left. The cross was a failure, but the rebound fell to left back Danny Rose, who was in a fairly strong position. He controlled the ball, took the shot, and could only watch as it hit the side of the goal. Bobby Madley blew his whistle, and it was all over, marking another disappointing draw for Spurs and adding to their ever-increasing list of missed opportunities.

Their opponents were Leicester City, the reigning champions who have not done a thing right this year. They have been crushed by Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, with no hint of the defensive steel which saw them capture the Premier League title against all odds. It was a game that Tottenham, yet to lose a Premier League match this season, were widely expected to win.

The game started slowly, but eventually Spurs began to take the upper hand. Slowly but surely the chances came, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side were soon well on top, almost without anyone realising. Leicester came close when Riyad Mahrez, one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League and a nightmare for opposing defenders, put the ball in for Shinji Okazaki. The resultant header was just over the bar.

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Under pressure: Son Heung-min (left) controls the ball with Christian Fuchs in pursuit.

Aside from that, Spurs were looking in control but struggling to find their touch in front of goal. New signing Vincent Janssen, the Dutchman touted as the next big thing after a record-breaking season with AZ Alkmaar, was part of the problem. He was described as skilful and strong. Instead, on this day he was an obstacle to his own team’s success, bumbling around as Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli worked tirelessly to feed him. He was the lone elephant amongst a herd of gazelles.

Spurs started to find some more openings as the game went on, with Alli hitting the bar before Janssen gave his side the lead from the spot. Eriksen’s free kick was flicked on by Eric Dier to the big Dutchman, who fought against Robert Huth and Danny Drinkwater to control it. Huth was the culprit, first wrapping an arm around Janssen before throwing him to the ground. Madley didn’t have much of a choice but to award a penalty, and Janssen converted the kick with ease.

Leicester needed someone to step up, and that man was Jamie Vardy. In the lead up to this match Vardy had been a shadow of the player he was as Leicester won the Premier League, rarely contributing to the scoresheet and not really getting involved. In the first half, he had barely touched the ball, let alone done anything with it. Now, however, he stepped up, turning the game on its head with an excellent second half performance.

He started by rectifying the deficit. Victor Wanyama was the culprit for Spurs, leaving all wondering what was going through his head as he headed the ball past centre backs Dier and Jan Vertonghen towards his own goal. Vardy pounced. He used his pace to find some space in behind Dier, and with surgical precision he threaded his pass straight into the path of Ahmed Musa, who simply could not miss. The Nigerian injured himself as he tumbled into the back of the net, but the damage was done.

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Unstoppable: Ahmed Musa (right) puts the ball past Hugo Lloris into the back of the net.

Suddenly, Leicester were back in the game. Vardy had found his touch, and whenever he could get the ball at his feet he looked very dangerous. Spurs, on the other hand, were panicked and rushed. Eriksen was the calm at the centre of the storm, forcing a strong save from Kasper Schmeichel and setting up a great opportunity for Son with a well-executed free kick. He was a cool head amidst the crisis, but even he was struggling to find an opening.

Janssen had a couple of golden opportunities to put his side back in front, but he missed the target by inches with both attempts. Meanwhile, at the other end, Leicester were starting to retain the ball. Vardy was finding the ball and picking out dangerous passes, and soon the hunter had become the hunted. Spurs were forced to keep their opponents at bay as Leicester attacked with a combination of crosses and long throw-ins, and for once it looked as if Spurs had no hope of taking victory.

They had some chances as space began to open up, and Vertonghen came agonisingly close when his header hit the bar, but it was over. The final whistle signified the end of another disappointment for Spurs, another game which they should have won but didn’t. They remain the only undefeated team in the league, but if they are to win it they need to improve. Fast.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Janssen 44 pen)
Leicester City 1 (Musa 48)
Referee: Bobby Madley
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama (Winks 87), Dembele; Eriksen, Alli (N’Koudou 83), Son; Janssen.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez (Albrighton 72), Drinkwater, King, Musa (Schlupp 68); Okazaki (Ulloa 78), Vardy.

Top 5
1. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eriksen was on top of his game, working his way into dangerous positions and creating plenty of issues for Leicester with his excellent delivery from set pieces. He was in control on the ball, and was a cut above the rest.
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Vardy was almost non-existent in the first half, but his second half effort was enough to save the game for his team. He created a goal for Musa with his run in behind, and caused plenty of defensive problems for Spurs. He has been out of sorts lately, and he will take confidence from his second half performance.
3. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Rose was a key player in both attack and defence, pushing forward when necessary and finding plenty of good options when he received the ball. He was never beaten by Mahrez as the Algerian looked to weave past him on numerous occasions, and he tested his man with his willingness to push up the pitch.
4. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Schmeichel denied Spurs on a number of occasions, and he was unlucky to concede the way he did. He was lucky at times but whenever he needed to make a save he did, showing excellent technique and rarely allowing his opponents a second bite of the cherry.
5. Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Walker used his pace and ability to get forward to great effect, creating plenty of chances with his dangerous balls from the right wing and often beating Musa for pace as he looked for an opening. Defensively, he was solid, and he was rarely caught out, even when Leicester broke away with pace.

Bournemouth show fight, but skilful Spurs come away with draw

A quick look at the result of the match between Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur may lead one to conclude that the match was cautious, even dull. Instead, it proved to be an intense and pulsating contest, featuring two enterprising teams playing aggressive, uncompromising football. There was very little time and space for the players on the ball, as both teams desperately looked to hound each other to suppress the other.

The quaintly named Dean Court was anything but as the match got underway. The lack of size in the stadium, one of the last remaining relics from Bournemouth’s time in lower league football, amplified the noise and the pressure. Bournemouth started the game with pace and purpose, and almost immediately had Spurs on the back foot.

The game had barely started when left back Charlie Daniels had a perfect opportunity to open the scoring for Bournemouth. Jack Wilshere’s corner was flicked on by Callum Wilson in the direction of Dan Gosling, whose ball travelled through Erik Lamela to find Daniels in a wonderful position. The chance was straightforward, but Hugo Lloris was there, the Tottenham goalkeeper miraculously deflecting the ball off the bar and out. The game went on.

Bournemouth continued to press forward as the game progressed, using the pace of Jordon Ibe and Wilson to unlock holes in the Tottenham defence. Spurs had no space on the ball, and most of their moves seemed to result in Lloris clearing the ball up field. Lamela hit the bar after Dele Alli nutmegged two opponents to open up space, and then committed a frustration foul mere seconds later. There were to be no more chances in that run of play.

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Physical: Jack Wilshere (left) challenges for the ball with Victor Wanyama.

Son Heung-min, red hot during Tottenham’s recent run of form, was completely out of the game. The Korean looked out of his league, and the delivery he received was poor to say the least. When he finally received the ball in the box, he fell over and hit a panicky pass to no-one in particular. It was intercepted.

Erik Lamela’s day was hit and miss, with very little hit. He rarely passed, and was lucky not to receive a second yellow card minutes before half time after he left his feet and fouled an opponent. His attempts to take on his opponents didn’t really work, and he lost the ball more than any of his teammates. Bournemouth were coming from every direction and every angle, hounding Spurs with every chance they had.

As the half neared the close, play became increasingly physical and referee Craig Pawson’s book started to fill up. A hold here, a bodycheck there, but the end result was the same. By the end of the half, five had been cautioned, the scene set for a tense second period.

Spurs came out after half time quickly, looking to stamp their authority on the game. They moved the ball well, pinning Bournemouth into their defensive half, but they kept breaking down with the final pass. Alli attracted two or three whenever he received the ball, and while Christian Eriksen was elusive as ever as he sauntered around in attack his skill was not enough. Son could not really get the ball at his feet, and he was soon substituted.

Bournemouth were not yet done, however, and they responded to Tottenham’s onslaught by regaining their counter-attacking ability. They put the pressure on, and as Spurs made use of the extra space it became an end to end affair. Attacks came close on both sides, but both defences were ready to do anything to keep the deadlock, throwing themselves around and making plenty of key challenges.

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Controversy: Players from both sides remonstrate after an incident between Moussa Sissoko (second from left) and Harry Arter (far right).

Then came the incident, one which set the fans off and created an incredible atmosphere. Harry Arter tackled Moussa Sissoko, who was desperate to quickly take the resultant throw-in. Sissoko sought out contact in an attempt to claim the ball, yet what looked like a relatively innocuous little bump turned out to be an elbow to the head, setting Arter off and bringing in a posse of Bournemouth players to remonstrate.

It was as clear a red card as one could imagine, but Sissoko stayed on the pitch despite the proximity of three officials, none of whom could quite see enough to force Pawson’s hand. Either way, the incident reinvigorated the crowd, who were on their feet and only stopped their cheering to boo Sissoko when he touched the ball.

The game was pulsating to the close, as Bournemouth fought hard to find their winner in injury time, putting plenty of pressure on Spurs and their defence. They held firm to keep the scores level, ensuring that an even game got the result that it deserved. It was scoreless, but it was anything but boring.

Bournemouth – Dean Court
Bournemouth 0
Tottenham Hotspur 0
Referee: Craig Pawson

Bournemouth (4-2-3-1): Boruc – Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Gosling, Arter; King (Fraser 88), Wilshere, Ibe (Gradel 60); Wilson (Afobe 82).
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele; Lamela, Alli (Sissoko 71), Eriksen; Son (Janssen 62).

Top 5
1. Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Walker was excellent defensively, but it was his attacking input that really stood out, pushing forward to create plenty of problems for Bournemouth. His pace and ability to get back after losing the ball was incredible, and it saved a number of goals along the way. An excellent effort.
2. Simon Francis (Bournemouth)
Francis was never really beaten on the day, winning every aerial duel and shutting down plenty of Tottenham’s attacks. His skill on the ball created some chances in attack when he pushed forward for set pieces, and he showed plenty of composure under pressure throughout.
3. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
In a game where Spurs had almost no space whatsoever, Eriksen looked a cut above on the ball, untouchable while his teammates floundered in possession. He skipped out of the way of tackles and made incisive passes, and while he was unable to break through he played a very strong game.
4. Adam Smith (Bournemouth)
Smith was excellent throughout as an attacking right back, creating chances when he pressed forward and defending solidly all game. He was never really caught out, and he shut down Lamela with his ability to put pressure on and make effective tackles.
5. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Vertonghen was a rock at the back for Spurs, making key tackle after key tackle and ensuring Bournemouth were kept at bay. He saved a goal late in the game with a perfect sliding tackle on Max Gradel, and was one of the main reasons the scores were level at the end.