We knew it would happen at some stage, as it happened it took 3 days for VAR to take centre stage.
Day 3 Recap
Much fancied France laboured against a well organised Australia but couldn’t breakthrough until VAR overturned the referees decision to award the French a penalty on 58 minutes which Greizmann dispatched. Remarkably France were caught napping and 4 later Australia had a spot kick of their own converted by Miles Jedinak. France continued to huff and puff and eventually got a slice of luck when Paul Pogba’s shot was deflected in for a fortunate 2-1 win.
Then came the most intriguing tie of the round Iceland against Messi & Argentina. Remarkably Argentina had learned nothing from England’s embarrassment 2 summers ago and made all the same mistakes that played into Icelandic hands, they took the lead early through a trademark Sergio Aguero strike then went to sleep and conceded a goal from straight from the Wimbledon training ground and then produced an hour of stilted lifeless football that rarely threatened the packed Iceland defence.
They did win a penalty that should have saved them some face only for Messi’s shot to be saved by Hannes Halldorsson. Argentina did at least start to stretch the retreating Iceland defence in the closing stages but it was too little too late and Iceland held out for a deserved point.
The afternoon game saw Peru entertain against a resolute Denmark. Peru played some nice football but wasteful finishing proved their undoing, most notably when Christian Cueva ballooned over a penalty awarded yet again via VAR review. The Danes made them pay when the largely quiet Christian Eriksen produced a moment of incision to play Yussef Poulsen in for the winner.
The evening match saw 2 of the tournament’s dark horses; Croatia and Nigeria meet in Kallingrad. Nigeria produced a shockingly bad 90 minutes of football lacking energy, discipline or attacking intent. Croatia were hardly brilliant but did enough to force an early own goal for the halftime lead. In the second period Croatia started to put it together via the inventive Luka Modric whilst Nigeria continued to struggle and a stupid pull on Mario Mandzukic gifted Croatia a penalty which Modric converted for a 2-0 win.
Day 4 Preview
Costa Rica vs Serbia
Costa Rica were the surprise package of 2014 but haven’t kicked on individually or collectively and a repeat run would be an even bigger shock. Serbia are one of lesser known sides who could turn a few heads this summer, they have a stout defence lead by Nemanja Matic, the ever dangerous Alex Kolorov at set pieces and one of Europe’s brightest young talents in Lazio’s Sergei Milinkovic-Savic. Costs Rica will try to niggle a side with a reputation for losing their heads but I think Serbia will have too much class
Prediction: Costa Rica 0-2 Serbia
Mexico vs Germany
The holders start against a fun looking Mexico side. The Mexicans remain a long-standing member middleweight of world football but may just have unearthed a heavyweight talent in Hirving Lozano. The old guard are still in place and Mexico will come out and attack the Germans but that could prove a mistake. Germany aren’t in the best of form but their squad has phenomenal talent even though there are some chinks in their armour: will Manuel Neuer be on form after missing the entire cub season at Bayern? Is Jerome Boetang fit? Is Thomas Muller still the sharp goal predator of old and did Loew drop a bollock leaving Leroy Sane at home?
I doubt Mexico have enough to beat the champs but I expect a lively encounter.
Prediction: Mexico 2-3 Germany
Brazil vs Switzerland
The rebooted Brazil kick off tonight against the Swiss. The big question hanging over Brazil is how fit is Neymar? For the first time since the 1980s Brazil seem set to entertain at the World Cup but it’ll be more difficult if their main man isn’t firing and they remain unsure against well organised European defences.
And Switzerland are always a tough defence to crack. If the Swiss had a reliable number 9 they’d be contenders this year but Haris Serferovic remains is hardly prolific but they do have an X factor in Xherdan Shaqiri. I suspect the Swiss will price frustrating opponents for Brazil and sneak a point.
Prediction: Brazil 1-1 Switzerland