SARANSK, Russia – Whether Kasper Schmeichel was making an acrobatic save or just getting lucky, it was his night.
In a World Cup debut reminiscent of the way his father, Peter, played for Denmark and Manchester United, Schmeichel made Yussuf Poulsen’s opportunistic second-half goal stand in a 1-0 victory Saturday over Peru.
“It’s good to have a good goalkeeper, let me put it that way,” Denmark coach Age Hareide said. “He is acrobatic and a very quick goalkeeper. He had a fantastic performance and we needed it. You have to acknowledge the performance of Kasper today.”
Poulsen squeezed his goal between charging Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and the left post in the 59th minute after collecting an angled pass from midfielder Christian Eriksen.
The victory gave Denmark a crucial advantage in Group C, in which France defeated Australia 2-1 earlier in the day.
Appearing at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, Peru had overwhelming fan support in the Mordovia Arena and the bulk of scoring chances, including a late first-half penalty shot that Christian Cueva sent sailing over the crossbar.
Cueva said he approached the penalty kick differently than usual and it backfired.
“I made a mistake; all I can do is correct it,” he said.
Minutes later, he walked toward the locker room looking disgusted while teammates tried to console him, taking turns putting their arms around his shoulders.
“At halftime we told him he had to keep playing strong,” Peru coach Ricardo Gareca said. “Of course, people make mistakes and in all matches there are mistakes. … He has the character to turn things around.”
The penalty was awarded after Gambian referee Bakary Gassama used the video assistant referee system to decide Poulsen had tripped Cueva in the penalty area.
Hareide didn’t seem bothered by the penalty.
“I’m sure it was the correct decision. It was fine,” he said. “It (VAR) does make life easier for the referee.”
Poulsen’s foul didn’t harm Denmark on the scoreboard, and he wound up being named man of the match after his goal and timely defensive play helped secure a victory against an aggressive and relentless Peru squad. His clearing header in the box on a cross over Schmeichel’s head helped the keeper recover and leap to grab the ball as it came down with Peru players looking to pounce.
“This was a very emotional game for me, especially because I made the penalty,” Poulsen said. “It seemed I was going to be the villain here. But at the end I scored and became a hero. That’s football. I was also a bit lucky.”
The stay of Peru and its tens of thousands of fans in Russia could be short if they don’t capitalize on scoring chances. And they have to play group favorite France next.
“I don’t think Peru, our team, deserved to lose, based on what I saw on the pitch,” Gareca said.
Gareca decided to use 34-year-old striker Paolo Guerrero as a substitute, delaying his much-anticipated first World Cup appearance until about 30 minutes remained.
Guerrero nearly missed the World Cup because of a doping ban that was lifted by a Swiss judge just before the World Cup.
Within his first two minutes on the field, his point-blank header was saved by Schmeichel. Later, his clever back-heel from close range rolled just wide.
“He’s a very important player, but the last one to come into the national squad,” Gareca said, explaining his decision to save Peru’s all-time leading scorer for the second half. “He played very well.”
Peru finished with 17 attempts to Denmark’s 10, and many of the Incas’ shots were of the point-blank variety. Schmeichel turned away many by diving or extending whatever limb he could into the ball’s path.
Schmeichel’s kick save denied Jefferson Farfan’s hard-hit, 83rd-minute bid.
The 31-year-old Schmeichel, who plays for English club Leicester City, ended up with the most saves (6) by Denmark keeper in a World Cup match since his father (9) at the 1998 tournament in France.
“Denmark’s goal keeper was a great figure in the match,” said Gallese, whose block of Erikson’s breakaway bid briefly sustained Peru’s hope of a late equalizer. “We did not deserve to lose. Now all we can do is to think about France.”
Within the opening minutes, Peru was pushing forward and nearly drew a penalty when Edison Flores and Poulsen collided on the left side of the box, but Gassama waved play on.
Peru nearly broke through in the 13th minute when Carrillo executed a step-over dribble to his left, along the edge of the penalty area, and unleashed a low, hard left-footer. Schmeichel dove to his right to bat the ball away.
The so-called Danish Dynamite did not get its first shot on goal until the 39th minute.
Starting midfielder William Kvist might be done for the World Cup, Hareide said.
Kvist was substituted after a hard collision with a leaping Farfan as the two pursued a ball in the air.
Hareide said if Kvist has a fractured rib, “he’s out of the World Cup for sure.”
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