First Touch

Peru Knocked Out Of World Cup 2018

A South American side has only once won a World Cup in Europe and it’s looking increasingly like that record us going to persist until at least 2030 after the elimination of Peru, assuming Europe gets to stage it then. After Argentina’s woes yesterday, Brazil did at least get the win they needed against Costa Rica, but both their goals came in injury time after a less than convincing performance and the chalking off of a penalty that Neymar had been given 12 minutes from time, that most balanced and graceful of footballers suddenly falling out with gravity and falling to earth a little too easily.

By Dave Bowler

Brazilian obituaries were being prepared, if not quite in the stentorian tones with which Argentina were condemned, not simply because they weren’t breaking through Costa Rica’s defence but because they rarely looked likely to. There was none of the fizz, the flair, the individuality that you expect from Brazil – to this day, the prospect of watching Brazil is the thing that most excites the imagination going into the competition.

And yet despite an attack of all the riches, Neymar, Coutinho, Jesus, Firmino, like Argentina, the Brazilians haven’t yet found a way of exploiting that, of bringing the best from them, of getting them persistently into games and causing the chaos they should.

Though they had plenty of the ball, their use of it was pedestrian at best, laboured and unimaginative as they tried to find the way through Costa Rica’s blanket defence. But, unIke Argentina, in those final moments, they found a way to score, Firmino, Jesus and Coutinho combining for the first, Douglas Costa and Neymar the second.Even so, you have to say that this is presently the least inspiring Brazilian side since 1994. But who won that competition? Exactly.


Of course, Argentina do have a chance to spring a real miracle thanks to Nigeria’s win over Iceland this afternoon. That means victory over Nigeria in the final fame and Messi and co might breathe again – if Iceland don’t beat Croatia, at which point goal difference would kick in – though rumours whirl that Sampaoli might not be in charge by then.

Whoever is at the helm, they should be well aware that Nigeria won’t be a pushover after they deservedly beat Iceland with two terrific goals from Ahmed Musa in the second period when the African outfit were a different side from the team that had been decidedly second best in the first 45 minutes, at least in terms of goalscoring threat.

The second half was very different, Musa’s magical first touch twice getting him into position to score, first with superb control of a cross which he then slashed into the net, then collecting a pass, getting the ball instantly out of his feet and embarking on a blistering, hazy run beyond defenders and goalkeeper to finish.


Iceland, back by the thunderclaps of a nation, almost got back into it courtesy of a VAR awarded penalty, but Gylfi Sigurdsson skied his effort from the 12 yard mark. The Icelanders must now beat  Croatia in their final game and hope things go their way in the other fixture, whilst boosting their goal difference.

Argentina need to take a leaf out of Nigeria’s book, for their coach, Gernot Rohr acted effectively to change things after their defeat to Croatia, changing both personnel and system to transform their performance. That’s the difference a level headed coach can make and why, when pundits complain that a manager should show passion on the touchline, they’re generally talking nonsense.

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The eternal virtues of knock-out football came to the group stage with Serbia and Switzerland both aware that victory would be decisive. Serbia were the better side in the first 45 and deservedly led through Mitrovic and perhaps could have put the game away. It was very different after the break when Xhaka smashed Switzerland level with a fabulous strike as he ran onto a loose ball on the edge of the box. That gave them fresh impetus and they went for the throat, Shaqiri curling a shot against the bar.

The Serbs were very unlucky not to get an obvious penalty when Mitrovic was wrestled to the ground by two Swiss defenders but from there, the Swiss looked the more likely side and when Shaqiri has fed through one on one from the halfway line the result was never in doubt, 2-1 to the Swiss and a win over Costa Rica sees them through. But Brazil shouldn’t underestimate Serbia in the other game. Who knows, we might still have a last 16 with Argentina and without Brazil.

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