Many of us from this part of the world had to wake up early to start of our Day 3 schedule of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. If you made it to the end of the last match without fading, congratulations! Each match was worth the wait and created another slew of headlines for fans to peruse.
Iceland shock Argentina, gain a 1-1 draw
Many neutrals had been drawn to Iceland every since their heroic Euro 2016 campaign and the swell of support for the tiny Scandinavian country has not dimmed at all. This morning, they faced off against Lionel Messi and his compatriots with the Argentine team. Many did not expect Iceland to gain anything in this opening Group D match, in fact, many reporters were already building up the narrative about how Messi would respond to Cristiano Ronaldo's exploits from the previous day. Iceland didn't care about any of that. Their focus and determination saw them through this game and gave them a valuable point against the would-be favorites of the group.
Iceland started the game strong and should have opened the scoring as early as the third minute when the ball dropped at the feet of Birkir Bjarnason with the goal gaping. Somehow, the midfielder contrived to miss from six yards out and Argentina survived the early scare. They were soon punished for that miss when Sergio Agüero put Argentina ahead in the 19th minute, Marcus Rojo went for goal from a long way out but his shot was blocked and fell to Agüero's feet. the Manchester City FC man swiveled before blasting his shot into the top corner of the net and wheeled away to celebrate a fantastic finish. Iceland did not falter though and five minutes later, they were back in the game. Gylfi Sigurðsson sent in a good cross that the Argentine backline did not deal with effectively and Alfreð Finnbogason was there to capitalize on the rebound and send the fans into delirium.
Both sides had chances to go ahead but Willy Caballero and Hannes Halldórsson pulled off impressive saves in both halves to keep the scoreline at 1-1. The best chance for either team to take the lead came in the 63rd minute when Cristian Pavón was brought down inside the penalty area. Messi stepped up to take the penalty but was thwarted by Halldórsson who guessed the right way and parried the ball away from harm. That save gave Iceland the self-belief and will to keep Argentina at bay for the rest of the match and therefore, gain a crucial point from the strongest team in the group.
France survive a stern test from Australia
This should have been a simple victory for Group C favorites France against Australia based on the talent at the disposal of the French but it took a deflected goal from Paul Pogba to give the French their first win of the tournament.
Australia almost took the lead in the 17th minute but Hugo Lloris was there to put in a strong hand to prevent an own goal and keep his team in the game. The French toiled for long parts of the match but eventually got the opening goal when Antoine Griezmann was brought down in the 58th minute. VAR came into play and the referee awarded France the penalty. The Atlético Madrid stepped up and cooly dispatched his penalty to put France ahead. The drama did not stop there as VAR was once again used two minutes later, this time in Australia's favour. Samuel Umtiti for whatever reason, knocked an incoming free-kick away with his hand and Australia were awarded a penalty. Just as Griezmann before him, Mile Jedinak kept his composure and put his team back on level terms.
Australia continued to probe at France but could not find the killer edge needed to take the lead. Instead, it was the French who found managed to pick up the next goal of the game, effectively ending the tie. Pogba strode into the penalty area in the 81st minute and went for goal on the half-volley. Aziz Behich got a touch on it went sent the ball looping over his goalkeeper, hit the crossbar and bounced over the line. It was a fortunate goal for France who had flattered to deceive and a cruel one for Australia concede after such a valiant effort.
Luka Modrić leads Croatia to victory against Nigeria
Had Ivan Perišić kept his shot down in the 14th minute, Croatia would have taken the lead after some solid build up play in and around the Nigerian penalty area but it was not to be. The Croatians had to wait until the 32nd minute to put the ball into the back of the Nigerian goal. Modrić sent in a corner that was nodded on and met by Mario Mandžukić. His diving header was then deflected into his own net by Oghenekaro Etebo, giving Croatia the lead. Andrej Kramarić almost made it two in the 39th minute when he met a great cross into the box but his header went just over the crossbar.
In the second half, both teams pushed for a goal as Nigeria looked to equalize while Croatia were looking to wrap things up as soon as they could. Croatia got their chance in the 70th minute when Mandžukić wa brought down during a corner kick by William Troost-Ekong. The referee awarded a penalty to Croatia and Modrić duly dispatched the penalty, earning the three points for his country.
Peru punished for lack of clinical finishing by Denmark
The match between Peru and Denmark will be a case of what could have been had Peru taken the numerous chances they had been gifted, including a penalty. Kasper Schmeichel was a busy man in Denmark's goal but he stood tall and kept Peru from breaching his goal.
That was the case in the 44th minute when VAR awarded Peru a penalty Christian Cueva was fouled inside the area. The midfielder stepped up to take the penalty and sent it high into the stands with an abysmal effort. All of those missed chances came back to haunt Peru as Denmark found the opening goal on the break in the 59th minute. Christian Eriksen played in Yussuf Poulsen who finished well into the near corner after beating the goalkeeper to the ball. Edison Flores and Jefferson Farfán could have brought Peru back in it but Schmeichel was determined to keep a clean sheet and made some important saves against those two. Controversial figure, Paolo Guerrero, also came close to bringing Peru back into this game but his cheeky backheel rolled narrowly wide of the goal. Denmark survived and took all three points after an interesting affair against Peru.