Day 19 Summary: Southgate’s penalty redemption & Sweden roll the Swiss
England 1-1 Colombia (England won 4-3 on penalties)
England have finally won a penalty shoot out, under the management of the man who famously missed the crucial penalty of the European Championship semi-final at Wembley 22 years ago, arise Sir Gareth Southgate!
OK it’s a bit early for a knighthood but Southgate has won back the belief and pride his nation had previously lost in its national team. England’s clash with Colombia was played out in Moscow last night in front of a largely Colombian crowd. But England made the brighter start and pressed high for the first half but failed to create much in the way of goal scoring chances. There was plenty of needle with Colombia shorn of James Rodriguez determined to play a disruptive rather than attacking game and they were fortunate to end the half with 11 players after a headbutt by Wilamr Barrios on Jordan Henderson.
But England made the breakthrough via a familiar source early in the second half when a complex free kick routine lead Carlos Sanchez to bring down Harry Kane for a penalty- duly dispatched by Kane for his 6th goal of the World Cup. England appeared to be coasting to victory until Yerry Mina popped up for a last gasp header- his third of the tournament 1-1 and extra time.
England looked down and out in the first period of extra time with Radamel Falcao going close. But in the second they rallied and Harry Maguire went close from a header as England pushed to avoid the spot kicks but to no avail. England had lost all 3 of their previous World Cup shoot-outs and when Henderson’s effort was tipped away by David Ospina a fourth loss looked on the cards. But Mateus Aribe missed and with Kieran Trippier levelling at 3-3 it was sudden death. Carlos Bacca blasted down the middle but Jordan Pickford made himself an English hero with a stunning save and Eric Dier finished it by drilling the final kick into the bottom left corner.
Sweden 1-0 Switzerland
It appears conceding that last gasp Toni Kroos goal was the best thing to happen to Sweden. They trounced Mexico 3-0 to book this tie with a Swiss side who impressed in the group phase. This always looked like being an attritional game between 2 solid counter attacking sides. Both sides probed and pushed for openings but neither were able to take them with the best chance a beautiful break which saw Marcus Berg go clear and find row z. Switzerland had similar problems with Steven Zuber ballooning a header. The worst miss however was reserved for Swedens Albin Erdal who got his feet in a mess and blasted over a beautiful cross from Mikael Lustig.
The trend of awful finishing continued through the first half and it seemed the only way this would avoid a nil nil and penalties was if someone made a mistake or got slice of luck. It turned out to be the later when Emil Forsberg made some space for himself on the edge of the box and blasted a shot that deflected off the unlucky Manuel Akanji and passed the already committed Yannick Sommer 1-0. Switzerland rallied but struggled to play through a well organised Swedish backline with Haris Serferovic’s cutting header forcing a good save from Robin Olsen. But Andreas Granqvist continued his excellent form marshalling the Swedish defence and they hung on for a deserved 1-0 win.
So there we have it 32 teams started out 3 weeks ago and now we are down to 8: France, Uruguay, Brazil, Russia, Croatia, Brazil, Belgium, Sweden & England. Over Friday and Saturday 4 will be eliminated.
Day 20 Preview
France vs Uruguay (Friday 3pm GMT, Nizhny Novgorod)
Uruguay are the best balanced side in the tournament with their rock solid back line lead by Atletico Madrid pair Diego Godin & Jose Jimenez, then there’s a promising young midfield that has grown into the tournament and the dynamic frontline of Suarez & Cavani. France by contrast are hugely talented but erratic with few convinced Didier Deschamps knows his best side. He seemed to find it in the second round when France overran Argentina thanks largely to the brilliance of Kylian M’bappe. But Deschamps now has to shuffle his pack again with key midfielder Blaize Matuidi suspended. But Oscar Tabarez has similar problems with the in-form Cavani struggling with injury.
France won’t be able to overrun the Uruguay midfield the way they did Argentina and M’bappe will won’t find the space to operate in as plentiful. If Cavani is fit this could be a classic if he’s missing it could just be a game of French attack against Uruguayan defence. It’ll be close and might just be decided by a moment of inspiration and Paul Pogba could just be the man to provide it.
Prediction: France 2-1 Uruguay (AET)
Brazil vs Belgium (Friday 7pm, Kazan)
Belgium have the strongest first 11 in the tournament and Brazil have the strongest squad. Brazil will get to illustrate their strength in-depth with Casemiro suspended and Fernandinho- coming off an outstanding season with Manchester City the likely replacement. Neymar is getting sharper by the game: his play that is not his acting and Coutinho has been outstanding: taking the creative responsibility for the side with the main man trying to get back to his best. One weakness Brazil do have appears to be at fullback as Mexico frequently exploited. Marcelo is still doubtful and Dani Alves didn’t make the squad leaving Brazil vulnerable down the flanks.
Belgium looked mundane for 70 minutes against Japan and fell 2 goals down. But in coming back Belgium answered their critics by showing the spirit to match their obvious talent. Belgium still need to do more to get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne who looks frustrated in his deep midfield role, could Martinez shuffle his pack to accommodate De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku all further forward and a more defensive option sitting deep to deny Brazil the space to play? Belgium have looked strangely vulnerable in defence but do have Vincent Kompany back to lead the side, a timely boost. This should be a thriller and looks likely to go all the way to penalties.
Prediction Brazil 2-2 Belgium (Brazil to win on penalties)