Argentina in danger of early exit after World Cup loss to Croatia
2018 Fifa World Cup Group D: Argentina 0 Croatia 3
LIONEL Messi and his Argentina team-mates face the possibility of being eliminated from the World Cup at the group stage after Croatia progressed to the last 16 with a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
The two-time world champions have collected just one point from their first two games against Iceland and the Croatians, who advanced to the knock-out phase thanks to second-half goals from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Rebic volleyed in just after the interval when Chelsea's reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero inexplicably chipped an attempted pass straight to him, with Modric scoring a second with a brilliant strike from range 10 minutes from time and Rakitic placing in a third late on.
Messi, who had a penalty saved in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Iceland, was again below-par and saw Rakitic block his only real opportunity across the 90 minutes.
Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli had made three changes from the draw with Iceland but his team were all at sea throughout in their 3-5-2 formation, with the South Americans fortunate Caballero denied Ivan Perisic when he was allowed to glide into the box early on.
Croatia looked vulnerable at the back too, yet Enzo Perez placed his attempt wide when left with a virtual open goal to aim at on the half-hour mark.
Mario Mandzukic was also guilty of spurning a glorious opening as he reached a back-post cross undetected only to head wide from close range.
The contest was becomingly increasingly tetchy and Rebic was perhaps fortunate his studs-up challenge on Eduardo Salvio led to a yellow card, rather than a red shortly before half-time.
He was allowed to stay on the pitch, though, and was in the right place when Caballero made his gaffe eight minutes after the break.
The stopper had been attempting to dink a pass to defender Gabriel Mercado, but the ball looped straight up into the air and was emphatically volleyed back over Caballero's head by Rebic.
Juventus pair Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala were then brought on as substitutes, and Argentina nearly forced an equaliser only for Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic to deny Maximiliano Meza and Rakitic to thwart Messi with a brilliant late tackle from the rebound.
Modric then made sure of Croatia's victory with 10 minutes to go as he worked space on the edge of the box and bent a brilliant attempt inside Caballero's post.
Argentina's frustration was evident as Nicolas Otamendi kicked the ball into Rakitic after he won a free-kick, which the Barcelona midfielder then dispatched against the frame of the goal.
Rakitic would get his goal in stoppage time, though, collecting a pass from substitute Mateo Kovacic to roll in with Argentina's midfield and defence nowhere to be seen.
2018 Fifa World Cup Group C: France 1 Peru 0
FRANCE boss Didier Deschamps was satisfied to reach the World Cup second round despite a unconvincing 1-0 win over Peru.
The 1998 champions reached the knockout stages in Russia after Kylian Mbappe's first half strike at the Ekaterinburg Arena on Thursday.
France are top of Group C with a 100 per cent record ahead of their final game against second placed Denmark on Tuesday.
It ended plucky Peru's chances of qualifying but they worried France with Paolo Guerrero denied by Hugo Lloris and Pedro Aquino hitting the post.
France also scraped past Australia in their opener and despite his team's stuttering start Deschamps is content.
He told a press conference: "We are in the knockout stages so we are very satisfied.
"It was tougher in the second period. We played a better game in the first half - it was more fluid and flowing. However, we were solid after the break which helped us get this result.
"The defending doesn't just come from the defence - the attacking players helped the team be more compact. This aided with the recovering of the ball in the first half - less so in the second half."
Peru only lost 1-0 to Denmark in their opening match last weekend and can count themselves unfortunate to lose against France.
They bossed possession for long spells but lacked the ingenuity to create any more clear chances after Guerrero's first half miss.
Jefferson Farfan hit the side netting from a tight angle late on but Lloris remained comfortable despite Peru's pressure.
But Mbappe won the game after 34 minutes, tapping in when Olivier Giroud's deflected cross left him with an open goal.
They now face Australia at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi on Tuesday with the Socceroos needing to win and hope Denmark lose to stand a chance of going through, while also needing a two goal swing.
Peru coach Ricardo Gareca said: "We thank the Peruvian fans so much for the great support in Russia.
"We left everything on the field against two very tough opponents. But this does not end here, we are going to close the World Cup with the same attitude."
2018 Fifa World Cup Group C: Denmark 1 Australia 1
DENMARK coach Age Hareide had no complaints over the award of a VAR-assisted penalty to Group C opponents Australia on Thursday - but believes the technology is removing the "charm" from the World Cup.
The two sides had to settle for a share of the spoils as the use of VAR again took centre-stage at the Samara Arena.
Christian Eriksen had put Denmark ahead with a superbly-taken strike, only for Mile Jedinak to level from the penalty spot and secure a 1-1 draw.
Both nations can still advance into the knockout stages with a final game remaining in a group which has been dominated by video assistant decisions.
Jedinak converted from 12 yards after VAR helped Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz adjudge that Yussuf Poulsen had handled in the box.
Peru missed a VAR-awarded penalty against the Danes in their first game, while Australia will feel justice has been served after they conceded a debatable penalty following video replays in the loss to France.
Hareide did not dispute the decision of Lahoz to point to the spot after reviewing the first-half incident but feels VAR is having a negative impact on the game.
"I do believe it was a penalty but the whole issue with VAR is that there are people somewhere in Russia deciding to look at this situation because it looks like a penalty," he told a press conference.
"That is okay but there were other situations in the match where they should have stopped it to look at what actually happened but they are not doing that, so who decides? Is it the referee on the pitch or someone watching in a dark room somewhere else?
"To me, it was probably correct but it does remove a bit of the charm of football to have such a precise system.
"Goal-line technology is okay but when it is so detailed, we know how tough football is, it has to be a very clear situation and I don't know how it will work out for football in the long run."
Eriksen struck with a sublime effort to put Denmark ahead in the opening stages before the Socceroos got back into the game and earned a point to keep their hopes of qualification to the knockout stages alive.
Like with the narrow loss to France, Australia coach Bert van Marwijk was again left frustrated by his side's inability to take their chances when on top.
"The conclusion is we have one point and we deserve four," the Dutchman said.
"Beside the first 15 minutes we played well, had chances to win and deserved to win so I am disappointed.
"We played very well and created chances and it is an unbelievable pity that we didn't score.
"When you are at this level and create so many chances against Denmark I must be happy with the number of chances, the only thing we have to do is put the ball in the goal. The last part of the puzzle is that we must make the difference by scoring one more goal than the opponents.
"From the first day the team has improved every day and they surprised me again today."