Penalty pantomime time with ‘The Hand of Cod’ and Aladdin
Messi and Cueva the villains of the day as Argentina and Peru rue spotkick misses
Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel looks on as Peru’s Christian Cueva misses a penalty during their Group C match at Mordovia Arena, Saransk, Russia. Photograph: Reuters
Luka Modric of Croatia celebrates with teammates after scoring from the penalty spot during their Group D match against Nigeria in Kaliningrad, Russia. Photograph: EPA
After Spain v Portugal on Friday night this World Cup, frankly, owed us nothing, if that tussle had been retrospectively declared the final and the trophy split between the Spanish and Ronaldo nations we’d probably have said fair enough. But it’s the gift that keeps on generously giving, it’s been mighty, the only glitch, really, the absence of an equaliser for Peru against Denmark on Saturday.
It’s nothing personal against the Danes, even if they have consigned our captain Séamus Coleman to spending his World Cup shopping for apples in Spar, it’s just that Peru were a thing of unrelenting attacking loveliness, 17 shots on goal in all, the only problem being that none of them actually went in. “Eamon’s doing a clip on their chances and it goes on for about two minutes,” as Damien Duff put it.
And just to add to the heartache, Christian Cueva hit a penalty in much the same manner that Johnny Sexton had been hitting his in Melbourne that morning: straight over the bar. “It might be on its way to Peru,” said Brian Kerr, who had possibly jinxed Christian by revealing that his nickname is Aladdin and he has a bag of tricks, “so I would’ve expected him to pull one of his magic ones out of his lamp, or whatever”.
Back on the BBC Jermaine Jenas managed to look sad for Peru despite having a very good reason to revel in their pain, telling us earlier about the time he roomed with their assistant coach Nobby Solano at Newcastle before a derby away to Sunderland. “It was the middle of the night, I was fast asleep, and Nobby decided to get his trumpet out.”
“You didn’t blow it, did you,” asked Gary Lineker. Jermaine hadn’t. “But he actually had the stand out with a book, all the notes on it. I said, ‘Nobby what are you doing?’ He said, “I’ve got to practice”.”
Nobby might have hoped that Christian showed as much commitment to practicing his penalties, then he might have succeeded as Antoine Griezmann and Mile Jedinak had done with their spot-kicks in the day’s opening game. It was decided by Paul Pogba, though, to whom Phil Neville had paid a lusty tribute before kick-off. “What is his greatest quality,” he was asked. “I think his personality is his biggest quality – the hairstyles, the emoji.”
When they do a This Is Your Life for Paul, they should neglect to invite Phil.
Lionel Messi, of course, had already had a Cueva moment in the game against Iceland, Hannes Halldorsson’s save allowing ITV’s Sam Matterface to make mention of “the Hand of Cod”. Sam, incidentally, heralded Cristian Pavon’s arrival on the pitch as a 75th minute sub with the information that “at only five foot five inches tall he is the same height as Kirsten Dunst or Mel from Mel and Sue”. Maradona is also five foot five, you’d imagine Cristian would have been happier with that metric.
Anyway, Iceland ended up drawing with Argentina, Jose Mourinho, over on Russia Today, putting their success down to their diet. “I think these boys from Iceland since they were babies were eating a lot of meat for breakfast, all of them very, very strong”. Meanwhile, if we’d a Euro for every time Sam patted them on their lovely blondie heads for peskily troubling a big boy, we could pay for a time machine to transport him back to Euro 2016 where they eliminated, eh, England.
Not a thriller
Croatia v Nigeria fell somewhat short of thriller status, the game starting off so dull that Jon Champion had time to tell Ally McCoist the stadium they were sitting in was actually sinking because it was built on a swamp. That cheered Ally up no end, while back in the ITV studio at half-time Roy Keane had the look of a man who hoped the ground would open up and swallow the game. “It’s like a friendly,” he said, and Roy can find no greater insult than that.
Less friendly were the looks he threw Slaven Bilic every time Bilic touched him on the arm while making a point, which was quite a lot, to the stage where you half worried Slaven would be down to one arm come full-time.
The atmosphere back on RTÉ was considerably less tense, The Duffer leaving us positively misty-eyed when he spoke about his relationship with the tournament. “My first memory is 1990, that summer I thought I was Roberto Baggio. In ‘94 I thought I was Romario. In ‘98 I thought I was Zidane, I was convinced I was. And then 2002 and all the dreams and hard work had come true, you didn’t have to pretend to be anyone - and that’s the beautiful game, I was there, and I was playing in it.”
That’s like yesterday. For Damien any way. And possibly Roy too.