June 26, 2018 / 5:19 PM / 10 months ago

France and Denmark unite in boredom - and progress

MOSCOW (Reuters) - It might not quite deserve a place alongside West Germany and Austria’s infamous “non-aggression pact” at the 1982 World Cup but the 0-0 draw that steered France and Denmark into the second round in 2018 certainly had the similar scent of collaboration.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group C - Denmark vs France - Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 26, 2018 General view as players compete in the penalty area during the match REUTERS/Carl Recine

That game ended amid farcical scenes 36 years ago, when Germany and Austria cooked up the 1-0 result that sent both through at the expense of Algeria, prompting the change in World Cup rules that resulted in the last two games of each qualifying group being played simultaneously.

On Tuesday France had already secured progress while the Danes knew a point would be enough in Moscow – even if Australia pulled off a surprise win over Peru 1600km away in Sochi.

The Danes were certainly in no mood to risk defeat by pushing for a win they did not need to qualify.

The all-European encounter was tame enough in the early stages but once Peru had moved into a 2-0 lead late in the first half the game staggered almost to a halt as, after 36 matches, Russia’s all-action World Cup registered its first goalless draw.

It made for a strange atmosphere in the Luzhniki Stadium where almost 78,000 fans, including huge numbers of red-clad Danes, moved from noisy expectation, through edgy silence to a finale of a cacophony of whistles.

France and Denmark supporters knew that the 0-0 was good news and, hardly surprised by what was unfolding, displayed pockets of cheerful resistance. The neutrals, however, were left frustrated that it was their lot to find themselves watching the dullest game of the tournament.

France had rested several regulars, giving goalkeeper Steve Mandanda his first taste of tournament action having been an unused squad member in five previous World Cups or European Championships.

Yet he did not have a save to make, other than charging swiftly from his line to reach a through ball fractionally ahead of Christian Eriksen in a rare Danish attack.

Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel was similarly under-employed as France’s star-studded team failed to test him, with Antoine Griezmann again looking off the pace before he was substituted 20 minutes from time.

The patience of the crowd finally cracked with 15 minutes left when Denmark looked to launch a counter-attack only for the man in possession to realize that virtually every one of his team mates had decided to stay in his own half and wish him the best of luck on his own.

Boos, jeers and whistles rained down from the stands, along with chants of “Russia, Russia” as the game played out its tepid final exchanges.

This time there were no tears from the victims of the stitch-up, unlike the distraught Algerians of 1982, who refer to the events as the “Disgrace of Gijon”.

The fans and players of Denmark of France will also not care a jot if their teams have upset the sensibilities of “the purists” as they contemplate their second-round matches against the top two from Group D while Australia and Peru start packing for home.

Certainly Denmark coach Age Hareide was not about to apologize.

“We were up against one of the best counter-attacking teams in the world. We would have been stupid if we opened up,” he said. “We played to get the result and we did it.

“You need to do what you need to do but for the team this has been wonderful. Our goal was to come here and to progress to the last 16.”

Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Neil Robinson and Christian Radnedge

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