Two days. That’s how long we have to catch our breath. It’s also how long it may take for some bar owners to wipe the lager off the walls. Release your white knuckles while you can. The heart-pounding semi-finals await.

 

In short

  • England punch their ticket to their first FIFA World Cup semi-final since Italia 90.
  • Gareth Southgate’s side defeated Janne Andersson’s Sweden 2-0 at the Samara Arena courtesy of goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.
  • The Three Lions continued to threaten from set pieces as Ashley Young drove in the corner which led to Maguire’s opening goal – his first for England.
  • Jordan Pickford’s rich vein of form continued with three vital saves to see his side collect its first clean sheet of these finals.
  • Marcus Berg leaves Russia empty-handed in a big way: his 15 shots without scoring is a tournament high.
  • Croatia become only the second team to win two penalty shootouts consecutively at a World Cup defeating the host nation Russia in a tight affair.
  • Denis Cheryshev’s wonder strike gave the home support a reason to believe in the 31st minute, only to be matched by a smooth team-goal finished off by Andrej Kramaric eight minutes later.
  • The game of “shot for shot” continued in to Extra Time as Domagoj Vida’s go-ahead goal in the 101st minute was matched by a well-worked Russian set-piece finished off by Mário Fernandes in minute 115.
  • Ivan Rakitic would rescue Mateo Kovacic’s saved penalty and coolly slot the winning spot kick in a 4-3 victory.

 

The Takeaway

Sweden entered their match with England in rather unimpressive fashion, in truth. Resolute defending and periods of good shape have been the Scandinavian’s spine up until Saturday, although their failure to integrate Emil Forsberg often enough proved costly in the end. The plan was once again intact for England as they showed more composure on the ball (80% pass accuracy) in all areas of the pitch. Jordan Henderson had a particularly dominant performance for 85 minutes bossing the middle third, linking with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, and putting in a crucial block following Pickford’s 62nd minute save.

Unity and belief are running rampant in this England camp and with good reason. The sentiment coming in to the tournament was that Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad would resemble a side playing without the shackles of a “golden generation” weighing them down. The optimist in the room would have suggested that a low-profile, low-expectation England would only help the team’s chances of success. A semi-final encounter with Croatia on Wednesday is proof of exactly that.

Jordan Pickford is peaking at precisely the right time as he continues to repay the faith shown in him as the squad no.1. Furthermore, Harry Kane has earned every thread of his captain’s armband putting in one commanding performance after another. At 24-years of age, the grace with which he has been able to conduct himself in the role since the first kick against Tunisia has been remarkable.

Russian supporters should have nothing but glowing praise for the product their team have put out at their home World Cup. Stanislav Cherchesov may not have smiled once on the touchline, but he must be so pleased with the way his side approached the tournament as a whole; destined not to go down without a fight and always playing on the front foot when possible. In a show of determined leadership, soon-to-be 39-year old Sergej Ignashevich featured in all five of his nation’s matches. He, along with long-time servant Igor Akinfeev, will wave goodbye to the dream-that-almost-was with their heads held very high.

In the end, many would feel the stronger team progressed in Croatia. Their group stage dominance has appeared to fade a touch in the knockouts, but this crop is not to be taken lightly. Their mix of skill and grit left Russia confused at times appearing unaware of where the next attack would come from. Rakitić and Modrić did indeed dictate the flow from the middle, but marauding play from both Ivan Strinić and Šime Vrsaljko revealed an aggressive, pressing side to this team that can hurt just about anyone. Their deliveries in to the box allowed the no-non sense approaches of Mario Mandžukić and Ante Rebić to shine, the prior getting involved in Croatia’s opening goal.

 

Goal of the Day

Goodness me, Denis Cheryshev.

I cannot remember a player from a recent World Cup host nation breaking out quite like he has this summer. His 31st minute strike left Danijel Subašić with no other option than to watch and admire. He plays an intricate one-two with Artem Dzyuba, evades a sliding tackle from Luka Modric and hammers a left-footed shot in to the upper 90. “The boy’s a star”, said Peter Drury. Sensational.