If this were a nod to what England and Belgium might serve up then make alternative arrangements tomorrow night. In our Russian paradise we had forgotten football could be like this, players drunk on apathy in a match of no consequence played out to a chorus of boos and whistles.
Ultimately the first goalless draw of the tournament could not escape the circumstances. France had already qualified and a draw would be enough to take Denmark through. Neither of these teams were busting their chops to get a win they didn’t need. Both made changes. Didier Deschamps did as he promised, resting half his team, No Paul Pogba, no Kylian Mbappe, no Hugo Lloris, no Samuel Umtiti, not much of anything really.
France pinged it about, Denmark were happy to let them have the ball. You wouldn’t call it collusion. You might call it convenience. There was the odd eruption of intent, Raphael Varane going close-ish with a header from an early corner, Ousmane Dembele flashing a shot wide of a post. At the other end Denmark had Steve Mandanda hopping about in goal a couple of times in the opening half hour but nothing that smelled like intensity.
Maybe news of Andre Carillo’s goal for Peru against Australia in the 18th minute made its way on to the pitch. Since Australia were the only team that could deny Denmark passage to the last 16, the contest geared down to training ground pace. It was all over by the 50th minute when Peru cracked a second.
Neither manager was minded to apologise for the poor spectacle. Denmark coach Age Hareide said: “We needed one point. We were up against one of best teams in the world. We would have been stupid to open space. We were playing to get the result we needed. It was a nil-nil. We were very pleased with that.
“Our goal was to progress to the last 16. We had a tough group. If you look at the teams one of the toughest. Peru, who only got three points, perhaps played the best. You need to do what you need to do. For the team this is wonderful. We sacrificed everything to make sure we progressed.”
No complaints with that analysis from French coach Didier Deschamps. “We have reached our goal. It was not an exciting match at the end. The Danish team was ok with having a draw because they would qualify. We didn’t have to take risks to do better because this result was okay for everyone. I’m not saying we gave up the chance to win but since there was no goals by the last 15 minutes we can say this was a neutral match.”
As the clock ran down towards half-time expectation that something might be cooking rose when Antoine Griezmann raced out of defence following a Denmark corner. As he crossed the halfway line and arrowed towards the Danish box Mathias Jorgensen chopped him down from behind. Spoilsport.
It was the last act of a dire 45 minutes. Jorgensen went into the book but that did not satisfy the crowd who sent the teams down the tunnel to a football soundtrack rarely heard thus far in Russia, disdain. And if you thought that was loud, the rebuke at the end of an even more featureless second half would have drowned out the traffic around the M25.
At least France had the decency to quickly head down the tunnel. In a show of urgency entirely missing in the match the Danes assembled before their fans, joined hands and let go an almighty cheer in celebration of making it through to the last 16. It was the only one of the day.