France 0 Denmark 0
If World Cup winners start slow, grind through their group, saving and building towards their best football when it matters most in then get behind France.
With qualification secure after unconvincing wins over Peru and Australia, the 1998 winners will need to improve a lot if they are to match their success of 20 years ago.
France manager Didier Deschamps, a player in that historic France side, braved six changes to protect and refresh his side for the next round and with Denmark as good as through too it did not make for a thriller.
In fact, both teams stank the place out and left the pitch to deafening boos.
After 36 games so interesting this has been billed the best World Cup, finally a goalless draw. And what a soulless one too.
Didi Hamann has changed his mind about this France team and now feels that they "flatter to deceive".#RTEsoccerhttps://t.co/DjKnZFuF1l pic.twitter.com/SMfFMDUGcR— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) June 26, 2018
Spectators at this spectacular tournament now expect and demand incident. This fixture gave us neither, nor a great insight into what to predict with Group C concluding with France top, Denmark second, and Peru joining Australia heading home.
That is hardly surprising but France are blessed with so many attacking options their lack of invention is a disappointment.
Deschamps reflected afterwards: “The second competition starts for us now. We have a lot of ambition. We have achieved our first aim, but will be humble and want to get to the next stage too.
“There is room for improvement, but look at Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain, for example, it is not easy for anyone here.
“We have reached our goal to top the group. It was not an exciting game. There were no need to take risks as this result was fine for everyone.”
France’s Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante was nominated as man of the match so had to face the press afterwards.
He said: “We achieved our aim to finish top of the group. We both knew we needed a draw so we both decided to organise our defence and it was difficult to break them down.”
Denmark coach Age Hareide commented: “We wanted to be compact at back and play deep which is why I made changes and it worked out very well.”
Asked about the booing and facing Croatia in the next round, he added: “We needed one point against one of the best counter-attacking teams in the world so we would have been stupid to open space for them. It was a 0-0 and we are very pleased with that.
“It is a high point for us to qualify for the last 16 and have at least one more match. Croatia are very good and I think they could surprise many. We will have to be smart, organised and maybe play as today.”
Ironically, the dullest match of this World Cup to date started surprisingly well.
Denmark’s Martin Braithwaite had an open goal air shot inside the opening few minutes and the Middlesbrough forward, who spent the end of last season on loan at Bordeaux, was a persistent pest to the France back four in the early exchanges.
It took a finger tip save from Kasper Schmeichel to deny an Oliver Giroud effort after 15 minutes.
At this stage the press box cynics here who suggested pre-match the sides would play out a friendly stalemate in the sapping humid conditions seemed so wrong. By the end they nodded knowingly.
Drama, of a sort, came on the half hour mark came in the form of a cross for Christian Eriksen, who was only just denied by sliding defender Lucas Hernandez and deputy keeper Steve Mandanda dashing off his line.
Jeers and whistles peaked with just over 20 minutes to go when both teams seemed happy to pass sideways and backwards.
Deschamps did his bit to try and enliven France by sending on Liverpool transfer target Nabil Fekir.
The Lyon man made an instant impact too, curling a left-foot shot inches wide into the side-netting in the last meaningful attack of a game that won’t live long in the memory.
DENMARK (4-3-3): Schmeichel 7; Dalsgaard 6, Kjaer 6, Christensen 6, Stryger Larsen 6; M Jorgensen 5, Delaney 5 (Lerager 90), Eriksen 6; Braithwaite 6, Cornelius 5 (Dolberg 75, 6), Sisto 5 (Fischer 60, )5).
FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Mandanda 7; Sidibe 6, Kimpembe 6, Umiti6 , Hernandez 6 (Mendy 50, 6); N’Zonzi 5, Kante 6; Dembele 5 (Mbappe 78, 6), Griezmann 6 (Fekir 68, 6), Lemar 5; Giroud 5.
Referee: Sandro Ricci (Brazil) 6.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved