This was a match that no one deserved to win as both teams advance to last 16
France and Denmark underwhelm in first 0-0 draw of the World Cup
Perhaps a tournament cannot truly be said to have had everything if it has not had a 0-0 draw. If so, the 38th and most tedious game of the last two weeks did the World Cup a favour. It was one for the completist, though definitely not the purist, let alone anyone looking for entertainment.
It offered little to the neutrals but something to the participants, who progressed together, France as group winners. Denmark booked their spot in the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time since 2002 although, with Peru beating Australia, this result proved irrelevant. They would have qualified with a defeat. It made this an exercise in futility.
A game to forget produced statistics to savour as Denmark extended their unbeaten run to 18 matches. They have now only conceded once in seven matches and Kasper Schmeichel has not been beaten on international duty in open play since November.
Not, however, that it was much of an achievement to extend that record. This had the feel of a glorified friendly, an entente cordiale, a non-aggression pact in a match lacking much attacking intent or incident. It was played at a soporific pace. France, who had already gone through, showed little interest in winning. Denmark were determined not to lose, as Mathias Jorgensen illustrated by unceremoniously fouling Antoine Griezmann, who had burst from his own penalty box deep into the Denmark half. Jorgensen, who was duly booked, was one of three centre-backs Age Hareide had selected, with Andreas Christensen deployed in an unfamiliar midfield role.
Before the tournament, Hareide had said France were “nothing special”. They offered nothing to change that opinion. Didier Deschamps made six changes, and if it was inevitable that would strip France of some rhythm, but they still had an enviously talented team.
But chances were not taken, in more ways than one. There were comparatively few opportunities and even when Olivier Giroud missed what felt the clearest, his supplier, Griezmann, was ruled offside. Each should start in the last 16, though, whereas some gifted fringe figures scarcely pressed their case to feature again.
The recalled Ousmane Dembele at least came close with one effort, though another was wayward and, despite his pace, he was ineffectual. Thomas Lemar was virtually anonymous. The replacement Nabil Fekir was alone in offering excitement with a curling shot that nestled in the side-netting and a 20-yard effort that Schmeichel parried. It was enough to wish he had started and as though no one had told him and his fellow replacement Kylian Mbappe that everyone else was settling for a draw.
Otherwise, they were slim pickings. France had plenty of possession and did precious little with it. N’Golo Kante was his usual industrious self and Steven Nzonzi won a series of headers but it would be a stretch to say anyone played well.
The hope that Djibril Sidibe would add some attacking thrust at right-back proved misguided. Benjamin Mendy came off the bench for his first appearance of the tournament, though the reality that he did not begin even in this mix-and-match selection indicated that Deschamps does not believe the Manchester City left-back is remotely ready to start after his injury-hit season.
Read more on World Cup 2018:
World Cup 2018: Day 13 updates - Messi's Argentina face Nigeria test
The most sentimental selection came in goal. Steve Mandanda is at his fifth major tournament but Hugo Lloris’ perennial deputy was finally granted a first appearance on the bigger stages. The goalkeeper looked shaky when spilling a Christian Eriksen shot. Denmark also claimed a penalty when Eriksen went to ground after meeting Andreas Cornelius’ perfectly-weighted cross as Mandanda and Lucas Hernandez challenged.
Denmark’s talisman also volleyed wide while it seemed to sum up their impotence when the substitute Viktor Fischer’s off-target shot hit the offside Jorgensen. This was another day to underline their reliance on Eriksen. He had a quiet day and so, as a result, did they.
So did the referee in a game of a solitary booking and no injuries. France appealed for a penalty when Giroud went down under Simon Kjaer’s challenge but this was a match that no one deserved to win. It may not matter that no one did, but France scarcely resembled possible World Cup winners. At some stage, they will have to or another campaign will have an underwhelming end.