Friday 6th July saw the first of the four quarter final matches played with Belgium surprising many by beating 5 times winners Brazil 2-1. After a disappointing World Cup campaign for Brazil, in which Neymar did himself no favours with all his antics, it’s safe to say the current Brazil football shirt will not be as much of a classic as previous Brazil shirts of the past. After all, it is now 4 World Cups in a row where Brazil have been knocked out by European counterparts.
France on the other hand continued to impress with a fine 2-0 win over Uruguay, which meant that Saturday 7th July would see which other 2 teams would complete the Semi-final line up.
We Start With England
It’s no secret that the World Cup draw has been kind to England for once. The only time England have faced a stern test was in the final match of their initial group stage, and even that match ultimately did not matter too much, as losing it which they did only gave England a “softer” passage into a potential semi-final.
That said, the old adage goes that you still have to win your games and in football there are no easy matches. The Round of 16 where England overcame Columbia was evidence of this, as the match was ultimately decided on a penalty shootout.
Even then, England were 3-2 down at one point, with Columbia having a chance to go 4-2 up and surely put the contest beyond England. However, the underside of the crossbar saved England from what otherwise looked a certain goal from Mateus Uribe. His penalty was hit well and a centimetre lower would of been goodbye Russia for England that night.
The media and fans alike in England would of been saying how this was so typical of England and that England are no good! However, Kieran Trippier equalised on penalty number 4 and penalty number 5 was brilliantly saved by Jordan Pickford in goal, and the rest as they say is history.
Sweden 0 – 2 England – World Cup Quarter Final
So with expectation naturally rising among the England fans, this Quarter Final match between one of England’s bogey teams in Sweden was the first of the last 2 Quarter Final matches still to be decided on Saturday 7th July, 2018 at The Samara Stadium.
In truth, it wasn’t a spectacular affair and neither side managed to ascertain their superiority in the first 25-30 minutes. England looked solid in defence and it is no mystery that set pieces have been a massive strength of England at this years World Cup.
No shock then when England opened the scoring with what was their first effort on target from an Ashley Young corner. As the delivery was driven in, it was met superbly by the head of Harry Maguire, who has been a standout performer in central defence for England in the campaign so far. What a time for Harry to score his first England goal and in fact he becomes only the 4th player in England’s history to score a debut goal at a major tournament.
That goal was essential for England as Sweden’s game plan had been all about frustrating England and slowing the game down in the hope of keeping the score level at 0-0, and then presumably hitting England on a counter attack.
Problem with Sweden is they lacked pace as a team, and now they suddenly had to attack England to get back in the match, but this of course played into England’s hand.
Sterling should of scored a second right on half time, when the brilliant Jordan Henderson angled a perfect lofted through pass to Sterling, and with only the keeper to beat, he should of done better. However, Sweden’s stopper Robin Olsen managed to get a hand to the ball as Sterling attempted to round him and defenders managed to get back and thwart the diminutive attacking midfielder.
The 2nd Half
The 2nd half saw Sweden come out and have a go at England and they were almost rewarded immediately when Ludwig Augustinsson put in a really great cross which was met by the head of team mate Marcus Berg forcing Jordan Pickford to make an outstanding save.
This save proved to be crucial as 10 minutes later after continued Sweden pressure, England scored the decisive 2nd goal through some excellent pressing and ball possession. Jesse Lingard ultimately was the provider for Dele Alli to head home unopposed by some poor Sweden marking. The goal had been coming as Sweden were trying to force it, but were leaving themselves far too open at the back.
The game was effectively over at his point thanks largely to England’s game management which has been another of their strengths in this World Cup campaign.
England are proving to be a very difficult team to break down and even when Sweden did fashion a chance a few minutes later, Pickford is inspired in goal making yet another excellent stop from Viktor Claesson, and then the excellent defensive midfielder, Jordan Henderson blocked the follow up shot from Claesson.
This chance proved to deflate Sweden, and it felt like England could go on and score another if they had to, but as the time ticked away fro Sweden, Marcus Berg then had an excellent opportunity from within the 18 yard area, but saw his shot tipped over from the seemingly unbeatable Pickford.
That chance really did feel like game over as the sails from Sweden’s wings were firmly gone now. This match ended up being one of the most comfortable Quarter Final contests I can ever remember involving England, but credit to the professionalism and game management they showed throughout.
It is worth remembering that England had previously only won 1 of the last 8 competitive matches against Sweden, so although the draw in theory has been kind to England, in practice football is not so straight forward, and therefore we should congratulate England on a fine display against a tricky opponent in Sweden.
Russia v Croatia – World Cup Quarter Final Match
Host nation Russia against Croatia was the last of the Quarter Final matches to be decided and this was to determine who England would face in the semi-finals.
Personally, I wanted Russia to win as I think it’s a shame when the host nation goes out of their own party, and Russia had been an excellent host so far. Most people have expressed genuine surprise at how well they have felt welcomed in Russia, but when you visit Russia as I have done many times in the past, you should not be surprised. Once you get to know the locals there, they are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet!
As for the match, most expected Croatia to win, but Russia made it extremely difficult for them and in fact it was the hosts who opened the scoring with a sensational 30 yard curled effort from Denis Cheryshev in the 31st minute. Danijel Subasic could do nothing as he watched the ball curl into his top corner.
Croatia equalised soon after with some excellent wing play down the left and Andrej Kramaric arrived into the box to meet Mario Mandzukic perfect cross.
Croatia should of won it in the 2nd half when Ivan Perisic only had to place the ball to the side of the Russian keeper who was helpless. Somehow he managed to hit the post and it deflected away to safety, but he could not of been any closer and in truth that should of been 2-1 to Croatia. The match went into extra time with Croatia keeper Subasic seemingly troubled by a hamstring injury sustained toward the end of 90 minutes. He somehow carried on, but he often looked in some discomfort.
In the 11th minute of extra time 1st period, Ivan Perisic met a Luka Modric corner with a header that trickled over the line to put Croatia 2-1 up and surely navigate them into the Semi-Final against England.
However, Russia had other ideas when 5 minutes before the 2nd period of extra time was up, Mario Fernandes met an Alan Dzagoev free kick to head Russia level at 2-2!
The match went into penalties for these 2 teams who had both previously won through their Round of 16 match the same way. The drama was only continuing for both these sets of fans to endure.
The Russian fans were in full voice as Fedor Smolov stepped up to take penalty number 1 for the hosts, but his effort was saved by Subasic who has a record of saving around 1 in 3 penalties. it was a strange effort by Smolov as he elected to try a cute chip but without any kind of power. Against a keeper like Subasic, that seems like a risky thing to try and he paid the price.
Marcelo Brozovic converted Croatia’s first penalty and Alan Dzagoev registerd Russia’s first goal from the spot in more typical fashion. Mateo Kovacic of Real Madrid then had his effort saved by Igor Akinfeev meaning the scores were now level at 1-1 after 2 penalties, with both teams having missed 1 penalty each.
Brazilian born Mario Fernandes was next up for Russia, but nerves got the better of him as he blasted wide and after Luka Modric scored for Croatia, it was now firm advantage Croatia with just 2 penalties each remaining. Modric’s effort only just found the net via the post and may have had a slight hand from Akinfeev, so Croatia a little fortunate it has to be said.
Sergei Ignashevich and Daler Kuzyaev converted their spot kicks for Russia, but unfortunatley for them so did Domagoj Vida and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic for croatia, meaning that the dream was over for the host nation.
Special shout out to Russia who let’s not forget knocked Spain out of the competition, and also a special well done to Croatia for showing the mental toughness to come through 2 penalty shootouts in a row against Denmark and now Russia.
We can now look forward to the Semi-Finals which will involve France v Belgium and Croatia v England.
Good luck to all teams involved!