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.
Argentina 1, Iceland 1: Lionel Messi had a penalty kick saved and Iceland held on. Messi failed to give his team the lead when his 64th-minute penalty was stopped by Hannes Halldorsson. The Iceland goalkeeper dived to his right and got two hands behind the ball.
Argentina took the lead in the 19th when Sergio Aguero scored with a rising left-footed shot. Alfred Finnbogason equalized for Iceland four minutes later.
Iceland created several first-half chances despite finishing the match with only 27 percent of the possession.
France 2, Australia 1: Technology twice helped France. The French team was given a penalty kick, eventually converted by Antoine Griezmann in the 58th minute, after the referee watched the replay of a foul on the sideline.
Paul Pogba later scored the winning goal in the 81st minute, and goal-line technology was used to confirm the ball had crossed the line after bouncing down off the crossbar.
Australia captain Mile Jedinak had briefly equalized for Australia from the penalty spot in the 62nd after Samuel Umtiti handled the ball in the area.
Croatia 2, Nigeria 0: Luka Modric set up one goal and scored another from the penalty spot. The Real Madrid midfielder sent in a corner that was headed by two Croatians and then deflected into the net by Nigeria midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo in the 32nd minute.
Modric then converted a penalty in the 71st after William Ekong held onto Mario Mandzukic.
It was the fifth penalty awarded in four World Cup matches on Saturday.
The win takes Croatia to the top of Group D with three points. Earlier, Iceland held Argentina to a 1-1 draw.