Day 21 review: England’s dream is still alive but Russia’s dies in Sochi
Ok this was back on Saturday and you already know but here’s what happened in the last 2 quarter-finals.
England 2-0 Sweden
They’ve done it! England have made it to the last 4 of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years and football might just be coming home. Sweden who had beaten out Italy, Mexico, Switzerland and pushed Germany to the 95th minute were expected to provide a tough test- historically they always have but not this time. Unlike England’s previous games that began with a barrage of pressing this time England began cautiously as both sides made tentative steps to push forward with the best chance coming when Raheem Sterling burst through and played in Harry Kane on the edge of the box but Kane pushed his effort wide.
But after 20 minutes of shadow boxing England went on the offensive with Kieran Tripper leading the charge down the right and forcing a corner from which Ashley Young whipped in a cross for Harry Maguire to head home 1-0 after 30 minutes. Minutes later Sterling was played in by Dele Alli but was eventually flagged offside. Sterling’s pace and close control were causing Sweden problems but his poor finishing was again evident when Henderson pinged a ball through to him only for the misfiring striker to be halted by ‘keeper Robin Olsen and then get caught in two minds on the rebound, it stayed 1-0 for half time.
The second half started with anticipation of a Swedish comeback as England have historically found in this fixture having taken the early lead. And Sweden threatened a quick recovery when just 70 seconds into the second half a dangerous cross found Marcus Berg whose bullet header was just kept out by Pickford. But the expected Swedish storm turned out to be mild drizzle and it was England who pushed forward in earnest with Maguire causing problems in the air yet again from a set piece. And with Sweden on the backfoot a neat passing move started by Young & Henderson found its way to Trippier whose short ball found Lingard on the edge of the box who floated in a perfect cross for Alli to glance home for 2-0.
Sweden had to gamble and through players forward and Viktor Claesson forced another acrobatic save from Pickford to preserve the two goal lead. Berg then got another chance when his shot on the turn forced a third great save from Pickford. But it was the last real chance the Swedes created and England were coasting as the referee blew for full-time.
England have now equalled their best ever run at a World Cup held outside their own country a truly astounding turn around and now it might just might be coming home!
Russia 2-2 Croatia (Croatia won 4-3 on penalties)
England’s dream lives on but Russia’s is now over. Few expected the hosts would still be in this far into the tournament but they strode out in Sochi in front of a passionate home crowd. But the more technical Croatians made the better start and it seemed this would be another game of Russian defence against a slow deliberate build up of pressure. But Artem Dzyuba’s physicality was proving a useful outlet and after 31 minutes Denis Cheryshev played a neat one-two with Dzyuba before lashing home a screamer for 1-0.
But the lead lasted just 8 minutes when Mario Mandzukic broke down Russia’s right flank and delivered a neat short cross for Andrej Kramaric to pick out a header and equalise. But Croatia couldn’t find another opening and the half ended 1-1.
After the restart Croatia again looked the more threatening and almost took the lead when a Kramaric pullback caused mayhem in the Russia box and Ivan Perisic guided a shot onto the inside of the post but it stayed out. Russian confidence grew and when Croatian goalkeeper Daniejl Subasic went down with an apparent hamstring pull and Croatia’s 3 substitutes all used they sensed their chance and pushed forward but couldn’t fashion a clear-cut chance and extra time followed.
But 10 minutes in extra time it appeared Croatia had found the breakthrough when Domagoj Vida got down low to guide in a corner 2-1. Russia needs to gamble and brought on the gifted Alan Dzagoev. And Dzagoev got his side back into it when a he floated in a free kick for right back Mario Fernandes to head home 2-2 with 5 minutes to play and penalties loomed large.
Both sides looked out on their feet and Russia got a terrible start to the spot kicks when Fyodor Smolov tried to dink his penalty but found Subasic’s hand. But Igor Akinfeev got Russia back level when he saved from Mateo Kovacic. But then Fernandes such a tower of strength throughout blew his penalty wide and Russia were in trouble again. Akinfeev almost kept out Modric’s effort and Ivan Rakitic stepped up to slot home and send Croatia through.
Semi Final Preview(i): Belgium vs France (St Petersburg)
France always looked a good bet to make the last four. They’ve rarely thrilled bar that classic second round encounter with Argentina but having cone up against defensively stubborn opponents.
France’s powerful midfield will be reinforced by Blaise Matuidi who provides the vital artery between attack and defence. Going forward France will look to get M’bappe involved but Deschamps lineup will be effected by how Belgium line up.
Belgium switched to a midfield diamond against Brazil from their usual 3-4-3 with Lukaku & Hazard as split strikers with De Bruyne at the tip of the diamond. The antidote to the diamond is 3 at the back but that isn’t France’s game. Meanwhile Vincent Kompany is dominant in the air but vulnerable to pace so Deschamps may be well advised to drop Giroud but the French often struggle to click without him, this game offers Deschamps a tactical conundrum.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez got far more from Kevin De Bryune playing him further forward but that was at the expense of Dries Martens, Martinez must decide if to stick with his changes that worked so well against Brazil or reset his side? The key battle in the game would appear to be between the wonderfully gifted De Bruyne and master holding midfielder N’Golo Kante, if Kante can keep De Bruyne quiet Belgium will be in trouble.
With so much attacking talent in both teams and 2 sound defences this should be a classic semi-final and one I can’t see being settled in 90 minutes. But I think M’bappe is on for a career defining moment and that will tip it in France’s favour.
Prediction: Belgium 2:3 France (AET)