Late in the first half, a group of Mexican fans opted to make their own entertainment and a ditty to their national team echoed round the otherwise quiet Luzhniki.
Their presence was entirely fitting as this was a stand-off in every sense. The tournament’s first goalless draw, the tournament’s first stinker.
Denmark came for the point they needed while France’s shadow cast failed to perform, as did, of greater significance, their leading light Antoine Griezmann.
The rumour is Griezmann begged Didier Deschamps to keep him in the starting XI, even though the obvious temptation for Les Bleus coach would have been to rest the Atletico Madrid man for the challenges that lie ahead.
Griezmann’s thinking was that he needed game-time, needed to play his way back into form.
The World Cup is not really the place for such indulgences, especially against a side whose approach was outlined by Kasper Schmeichel standing on the ball in a bid to waste time inside the opening five minutes.
Griezmann certainly couldn’t be accused of a lack of effort, if anything he was trying too hard. He drifted all over the front line, trying to prompt and probe but, all too often, a lack of quality frustrated his and France’s attempts to build any kind of momentum.
His first serious foray towards the Denmark goal came after 36 minutes and summed up his first-half display as he tripped over his own feet in trying to latch on to Olivier Giroud’s scooped pass.
Three minutes later a shot from 25 yards lacked conviction and was easily gathered by Schmeichel.
If Denmark’s tactics had been limited up to that point, they bordered on the crude when a swift Griezmann break was halted unceremoniously by a Mathias Jorgensen hack on halfway.
The second half continued in a similar vein, Griezmann firing a weak shot at Schmeichel six minutes after the restart. He was eventually hauled off 17 minutes later.
Yes, it was a second-string France side and their progression had been secured prior to this snoozefest, but Deschamps will have plenty to think about before they meet the runners-up in Group D in Kazan in four days’ time.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) June 26, 2018
Ousmane Dembele also looks bereft of confidence while the likes of Thomas Lemar and Steven Nzonzi did little to enhance their claims for a place in Deschamps’ first-choice XI.
But it is Griezmann who will be giving him the biggest headache.
It is a stretch to say he dragged France to the final of Euro 2016 single-handedly, but his six goals that earned him the Golden Boot played a hugely significant role, while his brace, and all-round excellence, that saw off Germany in the last four will live long in the memory.
If there is solace for Deschamps it is that two years ago, Griezmann reserved five of his six goals for the knockout stages.
He can only hope he does so again as it’s not without exaggeration to suggest French hopes in Russia depend on it.
When Deschamps finally put him out of his misery, Griezmann’s withdrawal was met with extreme indifference from an unimpressed audience.
Even the boisterous Mexicans had gone quiet.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!