Everything You Need to Know About Day 21 of the World CupJuly 6, 2018
Harry Maguire and Dele Alli headed England into the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia as part of a 2-0 win over Sweden in the last eight on Saturday.
The Three Lions have set up a last-four meeting with Croatia, as Vatreni beat host Russia in a 2-2 match that went to penalty kicks and was decided by midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
England have not reached a World Cup final since 1966, while Croatia have never been. By the end of their semi-final match on Wednesday, one of them will punch their ticket to the final against either France or Belgium.
Sweden vs. England
Two brilliant headers—one from Maguire on 30 minutes, the other from Alli in the 58th—gave England a place in the last four. The first of those goals brought a positive historical omen:
A 2-0 lead was no less than the Three Lions merited for the intense pressure they put Sweden under. High pressing and pace kept one of the meanest defences in the competition constantly stretched.
The latter quality was usually provided by Raheem Sterling, with the Manchester City forward took up dangerous positions across the forward line and provided an outlet for quick passes.
Only some wayward finishing denied Sterling a goal. Yet the 23-year-old's movement and the timing of it were enough to unnerve the opposition.
To their credit, the Swedes fashioned several good chances when they did go forward, particularly in the second half. Their efforts drew England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford into a trio of fine saves:
Everton stopper Pickford was producing a display so good that more illustrious names at his position should have been watching with envy:
While Pickford did his bit at the back, England maintained a threat going forward, thanks largely to Sterling's intelligent runs and Alli's growing confidence in possession.
The result was a comprehensive win and a saunter into a first World Cup semi-final since 1990.
Russia vs. Croatia
Croatia overcame a late equalizer from Russia in extra time to win 2-2 on penalty kicks Saturday and advance to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
For the second consecutive match, Rakitic was the hero, scoring the game-winning penalty for the Croatians.
Croatia had just one PK saved, while Russia had one saved and missed another wide.
Croatia overcame a 1-0 deficit in the game, as the first goal of the match came in the 31st minute when Russia opened the scoring.
Winger Denis Cheryshev buried an absolute blast from well outside the box into the upper part of the net to send the Russian fans into a frenzy.
Sid Lowe of the Guardian put the quality of Cheryshev's goal into proper context at the 2018 World Cup:
Russia owed much of its surprise run at the World Cup to Cheryshev's brilliance, as he turned in one of the best performances ever by a Russian, per OptaJoe:
Despite momentum being on their side, Russia's lead was fairly short-lived. Croatia answered with the equalizer eight minutes later.
Andrej Kramaric was the finisher, but striker Mario Mandzukic set him up with a perfect pass across goal.
As pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info, the Croatians showed their quick-strike ability by going from end to end and scoring in a flash:
Croatia came close to taking the lead on several occasions during the second half; however, extra time was needed to determine a winner.
It initially looked as though Croatia had scored the decisive goal in the 100th minute when defender Domagoj Vida's header off a Luka Modric corner found its way through a maze of players and into the back of the net.
That goal set off a massive celebration, which included Vida momentarily shedding his jersey:
In the second half of extra time, however, Russia received a golden opportunity due to handball just outside the box by Croatia's Josip Pivaric.
Alan Dzagoev placed a perfect free kick into the box, and Mario Fernandes flicked a header across the goal line in the 115th minute to even the score at 2-2.
David Cartlidge of ESPN UK noted that it was a deserved goal for Fernandes:
Thanks to that late goal, the match went into penalties, just as both teams did during the previous round.
While the win is huge since it represents Croatia's first trip to the World Cup semi-finals since 1998, the manner in which it happened should benefit England significantly.
England didn't need extra time to easily take care of Sweden, and with the England vs. Croatia semi taking place Wednesday, there is a fairly quick turnaround.
Croatia will have the best player in that match in the form of Modric, though. The Real Madrid midfielder was dangerous from start to finish Saturday.
If Croatia can get past England, it will mark the first World Cup final appearance in their history