Posted by News Express | 7 July 2018 | 1,002 times
England will bid to end their 28-year wait to reach a World Cup semifinal when they face Sweden on Saturday after Brazil were dumped out in the last eight by Belgium.
Gareth Southgate’s young side face the Scandinavians in Samara with a place in the last four against either Croatia or hosts Russia up for grabs.
In the other half of the draw, Belgium will play France in Saint Petersburg next week after Didier Deschamps’ side saw off two-time winners Uruguay 2-0 in an impressive display.
With the exits of Brazil and Uruguay, there are no multiple winners left in the competition, while it is the first time in history that none of Brazil, Germany or Argentina have made the semifinals.
That leaves perhaps the most wide-open World Cup of modern times heading towards the final week, and England manager Southgate has called on his team to take advantage.
“We came into this tournament as the least experienced team – we were one of the youngest teams in it,” he said. “But we said that we're an improving side who want to make our own history.”
The 1966 champions edged out Colombia in the last 16 with their first-ever World Cup penalty shootout win after three previous defeats, securing a first knockout-round victory at a major tournament since beating Ecuador in 2006.
“We’ve already had our first knockout win in 12 years, our first win in a penalty shootout in a World Cup for England, the highest number of goals scored in an individual game (against Panama),” added former defender Southgate.
“We want to keep making that history.”
Widely written off, including by their own supporters, before the tournament began, hosts Russia know they now stand just two matches from the 15 July final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
An impressive Croatia outfit led by midfield lynchpins Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic stand in their way on Saturday in Sochi, but coach Stanislav Cherchesov said his side were boosted by the support of President Vladimir Putin.
“President Putin called me before the (last-16) game with the Spanish and after,” Cherchesov said.
“Of course when the president supports you, it makes us comfortable. The players know this and it is just an extra boost for us in terms of motivation.”
Meanwhile, Croatians have been gearing for the “match of a generation” against hosts Russia in the World Cup quarterfinals as tens of thousands prepared to watch the game on giant screens.
An estimated 10,000 fans will support captain Luka Modric’s side in Zagreb’s main square, where the World Cup matches are watched on a giant screen.
Thousands of others were expected at fan zones in the capital and other cities.
Football fever has ratcheted up in the country of around four million people, boosted by a thumping 3-0 group-stage win against Argentina and a victory on penalties against Denmark to reach the quarterfinals.
Cars are decorated with red-and-white chequerboard flags and football jerseys are being sold in large numbers.
“Modric is bestselling, although (Danijel) Subasic is becoming increasingly popular,” Ana Maric, 20, selling souvenirs in downtown Zagreb, told AFP.
Goalkeeper Subasic was the hero against Denmark, making three penalty saves.
If Croatia beat Russia they will meet either England or Sweden in the semifinals.
Croatia’s only previous appearance in the quarterfinals came in their first-ever World Cup as an independent nation, in France 20 years ago. Eventually they ended up third.
“22 ‘Fiery Ones’, One Heart, One Soul, One Croatia!” trumpeted the Sportske Novosti paper, featuring photos of the players.
“Night for immortality! – We trust! We go to semifinal!” said the headline.
Labelling it the “crucial match of this generation”, it noted that “Russia is a superpower for Croatia in everything except in football”.
“The ‘Fiery Ones’, the best ambassadors of Croatia in the world... will try to break a big ‘Russian bear’.”
For the influential Jutarnji List paper, the match is a chance for Croatia to match the success of the 1998 squad, which included Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban.
Coach Zlatko Dalic said Saturday the “whole country is euphoric”.
Croatia fans will be massively outnumbered in a crowd of more than 40,000 in Sochi, but Dalic’s team are expected to have one notable backer – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
•Pieced together from different reports by SperSport.
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