For one of the Portland Timbers in Russia, the World Cup is over; at least, the competitive part of it is. With today’s 1-0 loss to France, Andy Polo's Peru sits four points behind second-place Denmark in Group C. With one match left in group play, the Blanquirroja has no path to the second round.
Throughout the tournament, in our various daily updates, we’ve talked about the tournament format: how it quickly becomes unforgiving, magnifying the small differences between countries who, because of stylistically differences, lack of familiarity with each other, and their general quality, are not so different in quality than each other. No games in Group C have been decided by more than one goal, yet France is into the second round, while Peru’s already planning their trip home.
In some ways, this may be a silver lining for Polo, though the Timbers midfielder is unlikely to see it that way. Without an appearance through Peru’s first two games, Polo’s now far more likely to play in game three. Yet if you asked him about the tradeoff between playing time and a possible fourth game, no doubt, you’d get a quick answer. It’s almost bittersweet that Polo might make his World Cup debut in a game that can't change his team’s fortunes.
This plight is not unique to Polo. With their loss, Peru joined Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia as early departures from the tournament. And, over the next week, 12 other countries will join them in leaving the competition before the next round. But for so many of them, the difference between a group exit and a knockout-round spot will come down to the thinnest margins. Even over three games, the gap between success and failure can be depressingly close.
Elsewhere in Group C, Australia got their first point of the tournament, following their Saturday loss to France with a 1-1 draw with Denmark. If they beat Peru next week while Denmark falls to France, and the Socceroos' knockout round fate will come down to tiebreakers, at worst. And a multi-goal victory over the Peruvians (with a Denmark loss) could put Australia straight into the second round.
And finally, we get to the day’s most surprising result, one that shed light on just how wayward one soccer power was headed into this tournament. After a 3-0 loss to Croatia, Argentina sits on one point after two games, needing a win on Monday over Nigeria to make the knockout round. Even if they get there, first place in Group D is beyond their reach, with the Croatians sitting on a full six points after two matches.
The World Cup had its serious pants on today, depriving us of much of the fun we celebrated yesterday. The absurd, however, gather in one insane story surround U.S. referee Mark Geiger, who was accused by Morocco of seeking out the shirt of a Portuguese player at halftime of the teams’ Wednesday meeting.
FIFA was quick to denounce the accusation (below), lauding Geiger’s behavior during the tournament, but in a way, we should be happy the Moroccans are being so vocal. While we have to always be conscious of the damage these accusations can do to a person’s reputation, we should also be conscious of just how insane they are. And as long as we remember that they are, in fact, insane, these eruptions can be a little fun.
As for David Guzmán
Tomorrow, it’s Costa Rica’s turn. Just as Peru needed to knock off a big boy to keep the knockout round in view, so do los Ticos, who face Brazil on Friday at 5:00 a.m. PT (FOX Sports 1).
Having arrived in St. Petersburg yesterday, Costa Rica spent Thursday practicing at Krestovsky Stadium, getting their first introduction to the surroundings for their pivotal group-stage matchup.
Also on deck
Following Brazil-Costa Rica, Nigeria and Iceland finish the second phase of Group D play, with Nigeria needing a result to keep their knockout round hopes alive. That 8:00 a.m. PT kickoff (FOX) will be followed by Serbia and Switzerland, with the Serbs hoping to build on their 1-0, opening game victory over Costa Rica.