With Brazil having been eliminated in the second Quarter Final, only European teams remained in the World Cup. So which two teams progressed to set up the second all European Semi Final? I reviews the third and fourth Quarter Final matches in this article.
Quarter Final 3: Sweden vs England
England were the favourites coming into this game, but Sweden showed they were capable of imposing themselves, in their second round game against Switzerland. England were expectedly the more offensive team in the opening exchanges, but they failed to have a shot on target in the first half hour, with Kane’s long range effort, which went wide, the closes either team came to troubling the ‘keeper. Just after the half hour mark, England opened the scoring from a powerful header by harry Maguire, which left the Swedish goalkeeper with no chance. The defender has been very impressive all through the tournament and this was just reward for the same. The first shot on target in the game turned into the first goal! At the end of the first half, Sterling found wasted a golden opportunity to put his team two gaols ahead. Running onto Henderson’s wonderful lobbed ball over the defenders, he failed to round the goalkeeper while one on one and then could not get a decent shot away on goal. Sweden nearly made their opponents pay for their wastefulness at the start of the second half, and only a full length diving save from Pickford kept Berg’s header out. Before the hour mark, Dele Alli found himself unmarked at the far post and made no mistake in heading in a Lingard cross. Finally England were in a position of relative security after having threatened to extend their lead for some time. A couple of minutes later, Pickford produced another brilliant diving save to deny Claesson and Henderson blocked the follow up shot from the same player. Less than 10 minutes later, Pickford once again produce a stunner, tipping over Berg’s shot with his fingertips. The English goalkeeper urned in a man of the match performance and ensured his side won by two goals and were moving on. The Swedes have done well in this tournament to reach this far.
Final Score: Sweden 0 – 2 England
Quarter Final 4: Russia vs Croatia
The home crowd were in full voice as the hosts looked to continue their fairy-tale run in this year’s tournament. The game started off somewhat slow, with both teams laboring to take control, while none achieved it. Russia once again were happy to play without much of the ball, with Croatia dominating possession muck like Spain were allowed to against Russia in the Round of 16. After half an hour, and almost out of the blue, Denis Cheryshev lit up the occasion with a stunning strike from distance. The Russian winger started the move, and after exchanging passes with Dzyuba, launched a curling effort which left Subasic rooted to his spot. The noise in the stadium was deafening as an entire believed another miracle was possible now. The goal definitely livened up the game as Croatia started to look for the equalizer. It took the Croats just 8 minutes to get level, Mario Mandzukic broke down the left flank and his delicate cross found Kramaric who headed into the net. The teams came out for the second half and played much in the same way as in the first. Perisic missed a glorious opportunity to give his team the lead. After a goalmouth scramble, where Russia failed to properly clear, Perisic controlled the ball and shot from 8 yards but hit the inside of the bar and the ball rebounded away from goal. It was a let off for the hosts and perhaps the omens were that another upset was on the cards. Croatia did most of the running and attacking for the rest of the game, with Luka Modric in inspired form, but they could not break down the resilient Russian defense. Croatia looked to be in trouble with personnel for a while as Subasic was injured and they had no substitutes remaining. The goalkeeper soldiered on after being treated. Mandzukic too was barely able to run but kept on going. In extra time, Croatia had to use up their extra substitute to replace Vrsaljko, who too got injured. They were literally walking wounded at the moment and any further injuries would see them play with a personnel disadvantage. They received another scare as Subasic aggravated his injury trying to catch a cross, and falling on his injured leg. He was able to continue again. The Russians kept taking shots at goal, trying to catch out the Croatian goalkeeper, but he proved equal to the task despite his troubles. In the 10th minute of extra time, Domagoj Vida rose scored from a header following a corner to give Croatia the lead. However, that was not the end of the excitement. In the 115th minute, Mario Fernandes also scored from a header from a Dzagoev free-kick. This tournament continued giving as moments to savour as the hosts just would not give up. The inevitable penalties followed. Smolov missed the first penalty but teams converted their next. Kovacic hit a good penalty to the right corner but Akinfeev flung himself and saved. Russia’s extra time hero Fernandes turned zero in the shoout out with a poor penalty that he pulled well wide. Modric got lucky with his kick, as the ‘keeper got a strong hand to it, but the ball hit the post and went in. The score was 2-1 after three kicks for either team. Both teams scored their next two penalties, which meant Croatia winning 4 – 3, Rakitic confidently dispatching the last penalty to confirm his team’s progress. Russia have had an amazing tournament, and bow out with their heads held high. Croatia move on to a Semi Final against and will fancy their chances to reach the Final, something that their legendary team of 1998 could not achieve.
Final Score: Russia 2 – 2 Croatia (Croatia won 4 – 3 on penalties)