Flicks, turns, long-range shots, penalty kick, runs behind the defence – there was not a single trick in the book that didn’t go untouched as Peru crashed to a morale-sapping defeat against Denmark side at Saransk.

There was no fairy tale as Peru made a comeback to the Fifa World Cup after 36 years. A rain of shots but nothing to show; a cruel lesson in the opposition snatching the match away. From a Peruvian perspective, there was so much at stake despite pundits writing off their chances completely before the start of the game.

Over the last four decades, the South American nation suffered many a failed qualifying campaign, and crashed to their worst ever defeat – a 0-7 loss against Brazil in 1997. That pain, of course, doesn’t even compare to the tragic Lima air crash of 1987, which saw their entire team and support staff lose their lives.

As Peru’s players sank to their knees and wiped their tears, they might have wondered if they had anything left in their tank. So where did it go wrong for them? Fine margins – it’s a trend we have witnessed over the first two days. To a lesser degree, Morocco were also handed out a harsh footballing lesson by Iran a day ago when the latter pocketed an incredible smash-and-grab win.

Earlier in the day Argentina and France, for all their flair, flattered to deceive despite Didier Deschamps’s team getting the job done. Were Peru a little too desperate then? Their recent record suggests that finishing hasn’t been their Achilles Heel. Between veteran Paolo Guerrero, Jefferson Farfan, Edison Flores and Christian Cueva alone, they had 18 goals in their preliminary qualifying campaign.

While it came as a bit of a surprise to see Guerrero not featuring in the starting XI, coach Ricardo Gareca’s selection was justified with the manner in which his players cut through the Danish midfield and flanks.

Andre Carrillo was majestic, popping across the forward line while developing a telepathic understanding with Farfan. Denmark had spells where they looked like creating opportunities but they stuttered for much of the game. That could be pinned down to talisman Christian Eriksen having a subdued outing.

The Danish hammer blow

How often have we heard, “When you don’t take your chances, you get punished” – it’s an age old adage in the sport. At the hour mark, Eriksen made his impact. The Peruvian backline was momentarily caught napping and the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder had acres of space to run into. From a 3 vs 3 situation, it was Denmark who had the edge. Youssuf Poulsen – who had conceded a penalty earlier – had plenty of time to take a touch, position himself, and bundle the ball into the net.

While Argentina’s shoulders dropped seeing their talisman endure a rare off day in the office and France looked bereft of ideas, Peru threw the kitchen sink. There was also the small matter of Guerrero making a return. That was merely a breather as the white and red shirts followed up one attack with another.

This was also a contest of streaks. La Blanquirroja had stitched an impressive 15-match unbeaten run, a feat they shared with their opponents before kick-off. But it was simply not Peru’s, or South America’s, day overall as Kasper Schmeichel, along with skipper Simon Kjaer and Andres Christiansen, did not flinch. The Danish goalkeeper beat father Peter’s feat by registering a national record of five consecutive clean sheets, pulling off several world class saves.

Elsewhere, France and Australia would have watched this fixture with a hint of concern. Resilience plays a key role in producing results in this competition. The Danes displayed oodles of it. But Peru, despite getting nothing out of this fixture, have the potential to cause greater worries. There was plenty of heart while they surged towards the goalmouth.

They might just have a goal or two to show at the end of the game the next time they muster 18 attempts on target. The distraught Cueva, who had to be consoled by his teammates at half-time, may not sky the ball from the penalty spot either.