RECAP: Denmark advances at World Cup despite 0-0 draw with France
MOSCOW (AP) — A game no team needed to win became the game no fan would want to watch.
The slow-paced game was out of step with a vibrant tournament. But it advanced both teams to the round of 16 unbeaten, with the bonus of no players suspended and no serious injuries.
The draw would always have ensured that outcome, and became inevitable in the second half. Events elsewhere in Group C made this game all but irrelevant.
“We did what we needed,” Denmark coach Age Hareide said, praising his team for a disciplined display. “We would have been stupid to open a lot of space for the French team.”
France, already sure to advance with two opening victories, goes into the round of 16 as the Group C winner and Denmark as runner-up.
The two teams were happy, and so were the thousands of Denmark fans who stayed to dance and cheer in an empty stadium.
Less happy were the neutral fans in the crowd. Many Russians cheered the host team’s name and whistled misplaced passes and slow play as the game progressed with Denmark protecting its one point for a draw.
It was the longest a World Cup had gone without a goalless draw since 1954, a tournament of 26 games which all delivered at least one goal.
“We didn’t have to take risks to get better because this result was good for everyone,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
Deschamps rested six starters to put out a team that barely tested Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel until substitute Nabil Fekir tried two long-range shots.
It was a mostly forgettable first major tournament start for France goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who has been a backup at two World Cups and three European Championships. The 33-year-old made his only save in the 54th minute, spilling Christian Eriksen’s free-kick before pouncing on the loose ball.
France’s first-choice goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Lloris, was among those given the day off. Midfielders Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi were obvious choices to sit after collecting yellow cards in a 1-0 win over Peru. A second yellow card before the semifinals triggers a one-game ban.
“I want to have all my choices in the round of 16,” Deschamps said. His team lost rhythm with a different trio of attacking midfielders to support Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.
Perhaps sensing it was time to make entertainment midway through the first half, fans created a wave that made three laps of the stadium.
Whistles and jeers got louder after a misplaced pass in the 64th by France midfielder Thomas Lemar went off the field 10 yards (meters) away from any player.
Only in the final 20 minutes, when Fekir and Kylian Mbappe came off the bench, did France show more pace and direct intent. They met a solid Danish defense content with the draw.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Denmark has a tough defense anchored by veteran captain Simon Kjaer, and a high-class goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel. Even the top World Cup teams will have difficulty scoring against the Danes.
France has won Group C and will open the round 16 on Saturday afternoon in Kazan, playing the Group D runner-up. That could still be any of Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland or Argentina before their final games later Tuesday.
Denmark gets an extra day off and plays the Group D winner, likely Croatia, on Sunday evening in Nizhny Novgorod.
“The team that only got three points, Peru, probably played the best in our group,” Denmark coach Hareide, happy to advance from a tough pool.