General, Russia 2018, 6.16.18

The day of his life finally came, but for Portland Timbers midfield Andy Polo, it also went without setting foot on the field.
While Peru chased the goal they’d need to pull back Denmark’s 1-0 lead, manager Ricardo Gareca pulled three changes from his bench. Captain Paolo Guerrero, the country's all-time leading scorer, was an obvious one, coming on for Edison Flores in the 62nd minute, as was Polo’s former Monarcas Morelia teammate Raúl Ruidíaz, who replaced Jefferson Farfán at striker in the 85th. Two minutes later, when Leon’s Pedro Aquino replaced midfielder Renato Tapia, Gareca was out of moves, meaning Saturday would come and go without Polo making his World Cup debut.

Compared to the fate of his team, Polo’s was a minor trifle. La Blanquirroja’s easiest path out of Group C involved a win over Denmark, their biggest competition for their foursome’s second knockout round spot. Now, after the Danes’ 1-0, one-goal win, Peru likely needs results against Australia and group favorites France to see a fourth game at the 2018 World Cup.


Polo is only 23 years old, and if his career maintains its course, he’ll likely have another World Cup in him, provided his country qualifies again four years from now. With another cycle's maturity under his belt, the Timbers' midifelder be in a better place to win regular time, with players like Guerrero (32 years old), Farfán (33) and Yoshimar Yotún (28) likely to be at much different points of their careers. Within the context of Peru’s squad, Polo is a fledgling talent. He’s the third-youngest player in the squad.
Still, this is the reality of most players’ lives at a World Cup. For each game, 14 players per team, at most, will see time on the field, leaving at least nine to dress, warm up, stand for the anthems, watch, sit through halftime and watch again before realizing they won’t step on the field. From the perspective of a month-long tournament, a 23-player roster might give managers enough options to meet coming challenges, but within the context of a game, 23 is a bloated, cruel compromise, condemning many to ponder the temptation of their proximity to the field.

Yesterday, we talked about the role culture plays in each World Cup, giving each event a sense of spectacle beyond its results. The players of the heart of that spectacle undermine that if they don’t maintain a certain kind of naive tunnel vision, focusing solely on performing at their best. Yet for many at each World Cup, their best won’t earn them time, leaving them to find solace in some kind of middle ground between sport and spectacle. Yes, you’re competing at the World Cup, but the joy you take from the event will have to be defined by something other than the field.


Peru has at least two more games at Russia 2018, so it’s premature to say whether Polo will get one of Gareca’s calls. But for many players, the World Cup can’t be defined by stepping on the field. It has to be defined by whether you stepped on that plane at all, and the vision you craft for yourself within the biggest spectacle in sports.

The results


The day’s most decisive and surprising results took place in Group D, which debuted with Argentina’s 1-1 draw against Cinderellas Iceland (more on that below). One of the pre-tournament favorites, the Argentines temporarily fall behind Croatia, whose 2-0 win over Nigeria means a second win, possibly over Iceland, will almost guarantee them a knockout appearance for the first time in 20 years:

Pos.
Team
GP
Points
1
Croatia
1
3
2
Argentina
1
1
2
Iceland
1
1
4
Nigeria
1
0

In Group C, France got a tougher-than-expected challenge from Australia but prevailed, 2-1, thanks to a generous penalty call and a moment of magic from one of the world’s biggest stars (again, below). Meanwhile, Denmark’s victory means a win over Australia, a tough as that may prove, likely puts them in the knockout round for the first time since 2002:

Pos.
Team
GP
Points
1
France
1
3 
2
Denmark
1
3
3
Australia
1
0
4
Peru
1
0

The details


1. Pogba’s “moment of magic,” to quote myself?

Look, not all magic comes from the staff of Gandalf. Sometimes you've got the grace of Robert Angier. Others, you're blunt, like Alfred Borden. There's more than one way to get a job done.

Did Pogba mean for those last few, fortunate touches to land the way they did? I mean, kinda? The man was clearly trying to make something happen. And what happened was the decisive goal in a favorite’s triumph over an erstwhile challenge.


2. Pogba’s moment was made more important by the two calls which preceded it, one providing a second controversial penalty cll in as many days. Antoine Griezmann (ofDecision fame) dragged his leg with Ronaldo-esque precision to draw this penalty, one that wasn’t originally whistled on the field. But history was made when VAR produced a penalty call, allowing the Atlético Madrid star to crush a conversion into the right-side netting, giving France their first edge.

3. Perhaps in a fit to restore justice -- or, perhaps to defy Griezmann, who turned down a move to FC Barcelona -- Barça defender Samuel Umtiti went, as Peter Sellers might say, "a little funny in the head" moments later, trying to skewer the ball with some kind of imaginary foil on an Australia cross. Mile Jedinak would step up, convert the ensuing penalty, and give the Socceroos life before Pogba’s decisive moment.

Now, I know you might find this difficult to believe, but the internet had a little fun with poor Sammy's moment:

Lest you think Sam too broken up about the whole thing, know the Barcelona defender got into the act himself on his Instagram story:

PTFC World Cup Daily | Debut day in Russia for Andy Polo's Peru -

Ah, the virtues of victory.


4. In Other Things That Made The Internet Laugh news, Lionel Messi, one day after rival Cristiano Ronaldo became the oldest player to post a hat trick in the men’s World Cup, offered this counterpart:

Welp.
5. Not to be outdone, Peru’s Christian Cueva showed a keen interest in interstellar space travel and long-range warfare when he launched this attack, almost aborted, from the dot in Saransk.

Andy Polo deserved better.
6. And finally, the image of the day: Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen using his goal celebration to express each West Coaster’s inner rage at 3:00 a.m. kickoffs.

Guzmán and Polo


For Polo, focus returns to training ahead of Peru’s next match: Thursday, against group favorites France, in Yekaterinburg. A win is a must if Peru’s to regain control of its knockout round destiny, while a draw would at least keep their Round of 16 hopes off life support.

As for the other Portland Timber in Russia, David Guzmán and Costa Rica will open their tournament on Sunday against Serbia, with Guzmán already counting the minutes until los Ticos take the field:

On deck


Costa Rica’s is the first game on Sunday, a day that will give us a reprieve from 3:00 a.m. PT starts. Their Group E match with Serbia kicks off in Samara at 5:00 a.m PT on FOX.

Following that, Germany and Mexico commence Group F play with perhaps the U.S. market's most-anticipated match of the group stage. El Tri begins their quest for the Quinto Partido at 8:00 a.m. on FOX Sports 1, with Brazil and Switzerland finishing Group E’s first set with their 11:00 a.m., FOX Sports 1 start.