After outlasting Russia in their second penalty shootout to break host nation’s hearts, Croatia booked a date against England in the second semi-final of the 2018 World Cup. In Saturday’s earlier match, the Three Lions decimated Sweden to qualify for their first semi-final in 28 years.
The fairy tale campaigns for Russia and Sweden end at the quarter-final stages – a feat many may not have expected, but what both teams wholeheartedly deserve for coming thus far.
England vs Sweden
England advanced to their first FIFA World Cup semi-final since Italy 1990 with a 2-0 win over Sweden thanks to a pair of headed goals by Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.
After a tepid opening 29 minutes, Maguire was able to spring above his marker and latch on to the end of a floated Ashley Young corner to give the Three Lions the lead in the 30th.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was notably called into action early in the second half when he saved Marcus Berg’s header – the closest Sweden came to scoring.
The Britons looked confident and threatening throughout the second half, which paid huge dividends when Dele Alli doubled the Three Lions’ lead – timing his run at the back post and headed in a cross delivered by Jesse Lingard in the 59th minute.
England held on to their two-goal cushion thanks to several Pickford saves to seal their place in the semi-finals.
Russia vs Croatia
Croatia joined France, Belgium and England in this year’s semi-finals on Saturday after beating host Russia 4-3 in penalty kicks.
A wild 1-1 match after 90 minutes saw each team score again in extra time, with penalty kicks deciding consecutive matches for both teams.
Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic once again came up big, making some big saves in regulation, one after getting injured, and saving Russia’s first penalty kick. Ivan Rakitic scored the winning penalty as Croatia returns to the semifinals for the first time since 1998.
It was a match that, frankly, was pretty boring for the first 30 minutes. After that, it was far from it, producing one of the most intense, heart-wrenching games we’ve seen in Russia.
With the score 0-0 and neither team looking like much of a threat, Russia start Denis Cheryshev scored the opener in the 31st minute, with one of the goals of the tournament, freezing Subasic from outside the box. But that lead was short lived. Croatia began to control the ball more and play down the wing, and that’s when Mario Mandzukic found Andrej Kramaric for the equalizer eight minutes later in the 39th.
The teams then went back and forth in regulation, and neither could find the winner, sending the game into extra time. Both teams went 30 extra minutes in their round of 16 clash, with Russia beating Spain and Croatia beating Denmark.
With both teams still having everything to play for in the extra session, it looked like Croatia was well on their way to the victory and avoiding penalty kicks. Domagoj Vida headed home from a corner kick in the 101st minute for the 2-1 lead.
But then, with just five minutes to go, Mario Fernandes played the role of hero, heading home a set piece to make it 2-2.
In the penalty kicks, Russia lost its composure. Fyodor Smolov tried a cheeky lofted shot to open it, and Subasic read it well to save it. Fernandez went from hero to villain, missing the goal completely on his opportunity, as Rakitic sent his team into the next round.