Group C favorite France began its group play against the always tough Socceroos of Australia. As expected, the French dominated the ball early with the Aussie goalie having to make four early saves. The Aussies settled down though and were able to sustain some controlled marches downfield. However, the Australians’ habit of bringing everyone back on defense stunted their counterattack ability. Throughout first half, both teams managed some scoring opportunities, but good defense prevailed. Early in the second half, we got our first look at the new video replay rules that allow the referee to retroactively call penalties in the box that were missed at first. France got a penalty kick after the review and Antoine Griezmann easily converted for the lead. Minutes later, French defender Samuel Umtiti commits a stupid handball in the box giving the Aussies their own penalty kick. The big-bearded Mile Jedinak tied the game firing the kick past the goalie to the right. The game remained evenly played until the 80th minute when French star Paul Pogba managed a give and go around defenders and delivered the game winner on a shot that bounced off both a defender and the crossbar. The ball bounced out of the goal, but video showed that it clearly crossed the goal line before doing so. Despite the loss, the Aussies looked good and frustrated the French. Their solid defense prevented the French from scoring more.
In the other Group C first match, Peru and Denmark faced off, each hoping to deliver a crushing blow to the other’s advancement chances. Denmark is the tallest team in the tourney and Peru the smallest, but it was Peru who pressed the early attack. Peru had a speed advantage that they were using on the wings and on through balls. Peru was unable to capitalize and Denmark settled down midway through the first half and began to push forward with their own attacks. For the second time on the day, a video penalty review resulted in a penalty kick being retroactively awarded, this time for Peru. Christian Cueva was perhaps too pumped though and launched the penalty kick over the goal. The first half ended with no score on the board, but with Peru the clear aggressor on the field. Early in the second half, Peru continued their assault on the Danish goal and some fancy in the box passing resulted in a great opportunity, but they could not get a good foot on a shot. Soon thereafter, a quick Danish counterattack resulted in a 3-on-3. All three Peruvian defenders converged on the ball, a critical mistake that allowed an easy pass to a wide open Yussuf Poulsen on the wing, who drilled it under the goalie for the lead. Following this goal, Peru’s offense shifted into an even higher gear and they repeatedly bombarded the Danish box. Peru’s offense showed a lot of creativity, bringing the attack from the wing, down the middle, with deft passing into tight spaces, lofted passes into the box, and even a back heel shot from Paolo Guerrero that barely missed. Despite numerous scoring opportunities, the Peruvians could not find the back of the net. Although Peru suffered the loss, they look like they can give the French and Aussies a run for their money. Group C as a whole looks like it may be the Group of Death, as any of the four squads look like they could advance out of the group.