Day 20 Summary: De Bruyne dumps out Brazil & Muslera howler sends France though
There will be a European winner of this World Cup: all 6 remaining teams are European after Uruguay & Brazil both departed on a dramatic day in the last 8. It all means there will be no South American presence in the last 4 for only the second time since 1982 and Latin America’s run of not winning on European soil dating back to 1958 will now continue until at least 2030!
Brazil 1-2 Belgium
Belgium’s golden generation finally came of age when they came from 2 down to beat Japan, last night they delivered the greatest result in their nation’s history to send the 5 time champions crashing out.
Belgium altered their formation to a midfield diamond to cope with Brazil’s array of attacking talent and freed Kevin De Bruyne into the attacking number 10 role in which he can excel. But the frist clearcut chance fell to Brazil when Thiago Silva bundled onto a Neymar corner but found the woodwork and then Thibaut Courtois. But after 13 minutes Belgium took the lead when Vincent Kompany lost his marker to power a header goalwards which Mancheter City teammate Fernandinho could only deflect home. Brazil dominated possession but it was Marcelo raiding down the left who looked the most likely to open up the Belgian back line. Meanwhile Lukaku looked a constant menace on the break and on 31 minutes he picked up the ball in his own half powered past 3 defenders and played in De Bruyne who powered home an exquisite finish for 2-0.
Brazil continued to look more dangerous down the left and after Marcelo’s near post effort forced a corner Couthinho blasted a powerful drive from the edge of the box forcing another save from Courtois. For the second half Brazil brought on Roberto Firmino and only 13 minutes later Douglas Costa to add some fizz to their misfiring attack and they did began to push Belgium back, cutting the front 3 off from the midfield. But clearcut chances were at a premium and earned the derision of the referee with a theatrical dive in the box. Brazil had a better penalty shout turned down when Kompany brought down Gabriel Jesus but nothing doing! But just as Brazilian hopes started to faded another sub- Renato Augusto burst into the box to head home Coutinho’s beautiful centre for 2-1 on 76 minutes. It threatened to be a long 14 minutes for Belgium but the pressure was relieved by the majestic Eden Hazard who made a series of spins and runs that dazed the Brazilian midfield and although Neymar went close with a dipping shot in the dying minutes Belgium held on for the win.
France 2-0 Uruguay
This quarter final felt shot as soon as the lineups were announced- no Edinson Cavani for Uruguay, the star player in the last 16 win over Portuagl ahd failed to recover from injury leaving only one half of their dynamic duo available in Luis Suarez and Chewie without Han just doesn’t work.
And it the game immediately settled into a pattern of French attack and Uruguayan defence with France’s best chance falling to Kylian M’bappe but he ballooned his header over the bar. But resistance was broken just before half time with Antoine Griezmann floating a free kick onto the head of Raphael Varane who powered home for 1-0. But Uruguay thought they’d found an immediate repost when Martin Caceres found a bullet header from a free kick only to see Hugo Lloris produce an astounding save to push the ball wide.
Uruguay made a strong start to the second half and produced a series snap shots from distance but the decisive moment came on 61 minutes when Griezmann hit a speculative shot from distance but Fernando Muslera tried to punch it clear and deflected the ball into his own net for 2-0.
Day 21 Previews
England vs Sweden
England haven’t made the last 4 at a World Cup since 1990, Sweden since ’94 so someone will find themselves in unfamiliar territory tonight. England weren’t scintillating against Colombia but the emotional lift of finally winning a penalty shootout is providing powerful momentum for a side who looked free from their predecessors failings.
No team had a tougher run to the last 8 than Sweden who eliminated Holland in a qualifying group that also featured France, then beat Italy in the playoffs, topped a group featuring Germany & Mexico and finally overcame a good Switzerland side in the last 16.
Much of this game will be played in Sweden’s half with England likely to dominate possession and press when out of it. Whilst Sweden will be happy to sit back and hit on the break. Expect a first tournament start for Danny Rose down the England left whilst Sweden must make do without suspended rightback Mickel Lustig.
Historically games between these teams have been close and it’s easy to see a similar story unfolding today but Sweden must improve their finishing if they are to stand a chance.
Prediction: England 1-0 Sweden
Russia vs Croatia
Almost nobody saw the hosts getting this far but they made it with 2 great attacking performances against lesser sides and a brilliant defensive performance against Spain. Croatia excelled in the group including that memorable thrashing of Argentina, but laboured against a tough Denmark side in the last 16.
Denmark had a lot of successful against Croatia by pressing high but that isn’t Russia’s natural game who prefer to sit deep- that could be a mistake with the line of Rakitic & Modric able to thread the ball through the eye of a needle. Russia will need the help of their 12th man: the passionate home crowd and Alexsander Golovin needs a big game if they are to catch Croatia on the break.
Ultimately I can’t see Croatia playing as badly as they did against Denmark and if they keep their heads should have enough to progress. Russia’s hopes lay with Golovin and from set pieces but so much of Croatia’s improvement on Russia has come down to their steady defence and I think they have too much for Russia to breakthrough.
Prediction: Russia 0-2 Croatia