EKATERINBURG, Russia — Out here two time zones from Moscow in the same time zone with Pakistan, where Europe meets Asia and Siberia is sort of just over yonder, 32,789 crammed into the delightful bandbox of Ekaterinburg Arena on a 52-degree June 21 with the light ample in the sky and . . .
It could be that France’s fleet phenom Kylian Mbappé, born on the excruciatingly recent day of Dec. 20, 1998 (which means he spent France’s 1998 World Cup title in the womb), scored. He scored his first World Cup goal at 19. It came as a sort-of tap-in in the 34th minute after some pretty French stuff that ended when one of Mbappé’s fellow frightening strikers, Olivier Giroud, punched a ball from the left in the box that caromed off the leg of Peruvian defender Alberto Rodriguez and over an onrushing goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, where it threatened to hop on in even without the help of Mbappé, who had arrived rapidly per custom.
“I’ve always said the World Cup was a dream for any player,” he said, as if anyone his age could have “always said” anything. “It was my dream as well. That dream has come true, and I hope I will have more.”
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So it could be that detail, or it could be that France, a team with the dazzling capacity to scintillate, did not scintillate wholly, committing insufficient scintillation. That was true especially through a dormant second half of which Manager Didier Deschamps summarized: “We were not always able to keep the ball so we had to defend and defend and defend. Twenty-five minutes, we were defending.”
France, which is both among the favorites to win this World Cup and a capable sower of doubt about same, has wriggled through two lukewarm wins, gained the maximum six points and left the people who care about it hoping for increased beauty.
That captain from the storied 1998 team, the manager Deschamps, said he felt “very satisfied” even as he said that second half “obliges us to be more coherent.” He also said: “I saw Spain against Iran, and they spent the last 10 minutes defending. If you’re looking for a [big] score, don’t come to a World Cup because you won’t get this.”
But it probably won’t be that, after all is done here, so it could be the comprehensive devastation the Peruvians felt upon their mathematical exit in their first World Cup in 36 yawning years. They spent the second half attempting careful solutions to France’s defense without ever presenting anything truly scary, and their best parry came in the 50th minute from in front of the box when a fine setup finally made its way to midfielder Pedro Aquino, whose thrilling strike went left and smacked off the upper corner of the goal.
Then, when they could threaten no more than that and the whistle came, they reeled. Paolo Guerrero, the 34-year-old national icon cleared to play by a Swiss tribunal on May 31 while still appealing his suspension for a positive test for a metabolite of cocaine, bent over with his shirt on his head for what seemed an eon. Groups of teammates kept coming over to console him. With so much anticipation among its 31 million, Peru had come to Russia, lost 1-0 to Denmark, lost 1-0 to France, hoarded more possession and accuracy against both and failed only at finishing.
Yet that won’t prevail in memory, either.
The sound will.
When all this gets sorted out in Moscow on July 15, the staggering sound of the Peruvian fans should linger as one of the hallmarks of this World Cup. Their national anthem rendition from Thursday night alone surely will withstand the test of memory, leaving seasoned mouths agape as it did.
That’s because they had come to dominate a stadium 10 time zones and 8,620 miles from Lima, Peru, which is also 13,872 kilometers, which sounds more impressive. They had come all the way from the 12 South latitude, 77 West longitude on the world map to the 56 North, 60 East. They had come in astonishing methods.
Jose Milla, a 30-year-old telecommunications engineer from Lima, had flown from Lima to New York to Madrid (where he visited Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium) to Barcelona (where he visited Barcelona’s Camp Nou) to Moscow, where he traveled to Saransk, Russia, for Peru’s first match.
“On the train or by air?”
“How long did that take?”
“Twelve hours. A long trip . . . And then back to Moscow, another 12 hours.”
Giancarlo Cardozo, a 41-year-old based in Miami, had gone from Miami to Madrid to Paris to Frankfurt to St. Petersburg then to Moscow for a few hours, then a bus and train to Saransk, then another train 26 hours to Ekaterinburg.
“These people are incredible,” Peru Manager Ricardo Gareca said. “If there’s anything that really hurts me and the whole team, it’s when we saw the fans were so enthusiastic . . . we are pained at the fact we have been eliminated and we are not going to be able to play a last match for anything meaningful [for them] . . . We didn’t return their trust and passion as we would have liked.”
He aimed to solve Australia in the final Peru match “so they can at least celebrate one victory in this World Cup.”
“It was my dream,” Milla said. “You know, Peru was in the World Cup in 1982, 36 years. So I know that a lot of Peruvian people want to be here . . . One of my dreams has come true.”
“It’s amazing,” Cardozo said. “It’s my first World Cup and I feel it so much.”
Thirteen thousand kilometers away from their homeland, they sang.
“With all my heart. With all my heart!” Cardozo said.
“I feel,” Milla said, “that I was in Peru.”
— Chuck Culpepper
France: vs. Denmark in Moscow, June 26, 10 a.m.
Peru: vs. Australia in Sochi, June 26, 10 a.m.
Peru’s last chance?
Guerrero’s dead-center, 87th-minute free kick from about 35 yards out doesn’t have much to it, and Lloris muffles it. Set pieces are not Peru’s thing, it appears.
France goes to the bench
Ousmane Dembele comes on to replace the goal scorer, Kylian Mbappe, in the 75th minute.
With three points already in hand and no real need to add to its lead here, France is expertly milking the clock.
Peru starting to press
After finally gaining solid control of the ball, Peru drives deep and gets a couple of good crosses into the box. Sadly for them, the only people waiting to receive the passes are French defenders. Then, in 61st minute, Andre Carrillo lines up a shot from dead center 25 yards out that rises over the bar.
Peru turns to subs for spark
Anderson Santamaria and Jefferson Farfan — the latter a starter for Peru in its opener — are on for Yoshimar Yotun and Alberto Rodriguez.
Farfan is involved almost immediately, rising high for a ball against Samuel Umtiti that results in Umtiti limping off. No sub yet for Les Bleus as the game restarts.
In the 50th minute, Aquino uncorks a shot from 25 yards out that glances off the post. Lloris wouldn’t have gotten to it.
Halftime: France 1, Peru 0
Peru’s defense seemed to come unglued after Mbappe’s goal, allowing a couple of other realistic challenges for France. The last 10 minutes or so of the half were spent almost entirely with Peru back on its heels. Facing World Cup elimination, expect a desperate side in the final 45.
France never has lost when holding a halftime lead at the World Cup, going 19-1-0 (the draw came against South Korea in 2006).
France strikes first in the 34th minute. Paul Pogba wins the ball and deftly gets it to Giroud. His shot is deflected but, with Pedro Gallese out of position, Mbappé is there to tap it into an open goal. 1-0 France.
Yellow for Guerrero
After a France foul, it’s Guerrero of Peru who gets the booking for, I guess, getting in someone’s face? Anyway, he’s been officially warned.
The fouls are building up. Scoring chances certainly aren’t.
Yellow for Matuidi
Blaise Matuidi pulls down an onrushing Peru player and is assessed the yellow in the 16th minute.
A couple of long stabs
Early on, Yoshimar Yotun notices that Hugo Lloris has crept up off his line and sends a bomb in from midfield. It hits the top of the net. Later, Paul Pogba attempts one from about 25 yards out and it just goes wide.
And we’re off
It’s safe to say Peru has the edge in the stands, at least based on all the red I’m seeing.
France won its opener against Australia but didn’t look all that great doing so, letting the Socceroos hang around for nearly the entire match until Paul Pogba scored the game-winner in the 81st minute (the second goal for Les Bleus that was awarded via the use of video review). For Peru, it was pretty much the opposite: It controlled the action for much of its opener against Denmark but fell, 1-0, with Christian Cueva missing a penalty kick late in the first half. A loss to France would end Peru’s once-high hopes after just two games. Les Bleus will clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win.
France hasn’t lost to a South American team at the World Cup since 1978, when it fell to host Argentina in the group stage.
France: Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Pogba, Kanté; Mbappé, Griezmann, Matuidi; Giroud
Peru: Gallese; Advincula, Ramos, Rodriguez, Trauco; Aquino, Flores, Yotun; Carrillo, Guerrero, Cueva
For France, Blaise Matuidi replaces Corentin Tolisso in the midfield and Olivier Giroud replaces Ousmane Dembélé up top. Midfielder Renato Tapia, meanwhile, is out with a concussion for Peru, at least to start. He’s replaced by Pedro Aquino. Captain Paolo Guerrero (see below) also reassumes his spot in the starting lineup, replacing Jefferson Farfan.
— Matt Bonesteel
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