SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Yussuf Poulsen redeemed himself by scoring the solitary goal against Peru after giving away a first-half penalty as Denmark picked up a crucial victory in Group C to begin their World Cup campaign at the Mordovia Arena on Saturday.
Christian Cueva ballooned the spot kick, awarded after VAR consultation when Poulsen brought down the penalty-taker, just before halftime, the worst of several misses for Peru, who were returning to the finals after a gap of 36 years.
Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen, who had an otherwise quiet outing, set up the game’s decisive moment by threading an immaculate defense-splitting pass to Poulsen who beat advancing Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese in the 59th minute.
“Of course it was an emotional game,” Poulsen told reporters. “For me in particular, in the first half I made a penalty, I was the bad guy. Then I scored, I was the good guy.”
With France firm favorites to top the group and already picking up their first points with a 2-1 win over Australia earlier on Saturday, both Peru and Denmark were desperate for victory to boost their chances of advancing to the playoffs.
Both teams arrived in Saransk with an identical 15-match unbeaten streak and it appeared to be a matter of time before a bright-looking Peru, egged on by massive support at the stadium, would score.
Denmark started by playing long balls directed at their wingers to take advantage of their superior height factor but mostly ended up playing catch up to Peru’s slick short passing game for the opening half-hour.
Erisken was largely ineffective during the first half but started having an impact on the game once the Danes began playing more passes.
Peru, who left out all-time top-scorer Paolo Guerrero from their starting line-up, were awarded a penalty by referee Bakary Gassama after he consulted with the video assistant referee for Poulsen’s foul on Cueva.
Yet he struck an awful penalty way over the bar, leaving the red-and-white clad Peru fans distraught, not to mention the crestfallen Cueva himself.
Peru were pacy in their counter attacks but lost their way around the box as one gilt-edged chance after another was wasted. Coach Ricardo Gareca opted for Guerrero immediately after his side conceded the goal.
Guerrero, who was reprieved from a doping ban just in time for the tournament, almost scored an equalizer but his header flew straight into the hands of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
The marksman also came close when his audacious backheel trickled past a helpless Schmeichel and the post as Peru continued to be denied an equalizer.
“Peru did as much as possible to win the game and score. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to do that,” Gareca said.
“I have nothing to say to my players. They did their best. I really can’t complain. I think in general terms the result doesn’t really reflect what happened on the pitch. But football is all about effectiveness.”
Denmark will hope for another three points when they meet Australia while Peru face the French side hoping to keep their tournament hopes alive on Thursday.
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ian Chadband