At last, England have managed to win a knock-out game at a major tournament. Does John Newsome believe they can now progress beyond the quarter-finals?
SWEDEN v ENGLAND
Sweden beat a below average Switzerland side to progress to the quarter-final and set up this mouthwatering tie against England. Apart from the 2 goals conceded in the loss to Germany, the Swedes have kept a clean sheet in the other 3 games played and have a solid tight defence. They play an old-fashioned 4/4/2 with each player knowing his role in the side and whilst there are no real superstars after the retirement of Zlatan, they do have solid individuals who will give everything for the cause. RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg got the all-important goal against the Swiss. Unfortunately for the Swedes, is Celtic defender Mikael Lustig picked up his 2nd Yellow Card of the tournament and will miss this game against England. That is a big disappointment for Mikael and for Sweden in general. Another Emil, Bologna’s Emil Krafth should come in for Lustig.
England changed the majority of the side for the loss to Belgium and reverted back to the initial starting lineup who played a fortnight ago against Tunisia. Dele Alli came back into the side having missed the games against Panama and Belgium. Gareth Southgate has decisions to make for this quarter-final against tough opponents Sweden who England very rarely beat. Harry Kane got his 6th goal of the competition and is leading the Golden Boot, 2 in front of Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 has gone home so Harry really only has Big Rom to contend with to win the coveted Boot. England were heading for the quarter-final until a last-minute equaliser by Columbia meant the tie had another half hour to play. With the score still 1-1 at the final whistle, the 3rd of the 8 knockout games went to the dreaded penalty shootout. The good news for Columbia is England have never won a World Cup Penalty Shootout and have only ever won 1 shootout in their tournament history. The Three Lions beat Spain in Euro’96. Stuart Pearce getting redemption for his miss in Italia ‘90. As it’s Wimbledon Fortnight, a bit of trivia for the England faithful. Tennis ace Rafa Nadal’s uncle Miguel Angel Nadal missed a penalty in that game at Euro ‘96 as did Spain’s temporary manager Fernando Hierro. After a tough last 16 game against Columbia, England won their 1st ever World Cup Penalty Shootout. Losses to Germany at Italia ‘90, Argentina at France ‘98 and against Portugal at Germany 2006 have been etched on the English memories. After Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford had successfully scored their penalties and matched the penalties of Columbia, Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, who has had a superb tournament so far, missed his spot-kick bringing back all those memories of hurt. Columbia hit the bar with their 4th and Kieran Trippier coolly slotted home his to put the scores back level. Kieran honed his penalty taking skills in Barnsley after spending the 2010/11 season on loan at Oakwell. England stopper Jordan Pickford finally came to the Penalty Party and superbly saved the 5th Columbia spot kick. This meant Eric Dier, who was a late substitute in the game only had to score and England had won. Eric did the business and England had finally done it. Finally won a World Cup Penalty Shootout. In theory, this game against Sweden should be more like an English Premier League game and there shouldn’t be the spoiling tactics employed by the cynical Columbians. However, England’s record against Sweden is not the best. The sides have met before 8 times in tournaments and qualifiers. Out of those meetings, England have won just once at Euro 2012. There have been five draws and two wins for the Swedes. These games usually end in draws and this quarter-final game will be a tight affair with not many goals.
England Win 1-0
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URUGUAY v FRANCE
Uruguay played their own part in an enthralling last 16 game against Portugal. Paris Saint Germain forward Edinson Cavani got 2 superb goals to knock out fellow superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 and his teammates couldn’t emulate the achievements of 2 years ago winning the European Championships in France and this might have been his final World Cup game as he will be 37 in Qatar 2022.
Uruguay, 2 times winners of the World Cup, having won the inaugural competition as hosts in 1930 then surprisingly beating hosts Brazil in 1950, have a real opportunity to add a 3rd star to their Badge. They have only conceded 1 goal in their 4 games so far which is a tremendous defensive achievement and Les Bleus will find it extremely difficult to penetrate.
France played in one of the games of the tournament so far against Argentina which epitomises this year’s World Cup. Antoine Griezmann started the goalscoring proceedings with an early penalty after Marcos Rojo had up-ended Kylian Mbappe in the area. Argentina equalised just before the break through fellow Paris Saint Germain forward Angel Di Maria. Argentina started the 2nd half the better and were quickly in front in the 48th minute. Defender Gabriel Mercado gave the Blue and Whites of South America the lead from a Lionel Messi assist. Benjamin Pavard scored a wonder goal to bring France level. Les Bleus soon took control of the game, with 2 quick Kylian Mbappe goals, the 2nd being a wonderful team goal laid on by Olivier Giroud. Argentina did get a late 3rd from Sergio Aguero. If Sergio had scored a couple of minutes earlier, Argentina may have got an equaliser. Sadly for The Argentinian faithful, the game finished and they were on their way to the Airport. A thrilling game and Les Bleus progress.
This will be another tight affair and could go to penalties.
France Win 3-2
BRAZIL v BELGIUM
Brazil eased past Mexico in the last 16 round. Although the Mexicans tried and were lively throughout, they never really troubled the favourites to win this excellent World Cup in Russia. Real Madrid superstar Marcelo sat this one out after suffering from a back spasm, supposedly caused by a poor mattress. Ex-Chelsea star Felipe Luis replaced Marcelo and faired bravely, however it’s unlikely he ‘ll keep Marcelo out of the side and will be back on the subs bench providing Marcelo is fit. Paris Saint Germain star Neymar was subject to some fierce challenges by the Mexicans and the little wizard was not ashamed to writhe around in agony after being tapped. He is the most fouled player at the tournament so should be used to the contact by now and rightly or wrongly it comes with the territory of being the best player. He got his goal just after the break, his 2nd of the competition. After neat interplay between the Brazilian forwards he arrived at the far post to tap in a Willian cross to steady the Yellow and Green nerves. Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino replaced his former club teammate Philip Coutinho in the 86th minute and made an immediate impact scoring Brazil’s 2nd to give the Samba boys the win and set up this mouthwatering quarter-final tie against Belgium.
Belgium were made to work for their place in the last 8. They took on Japan and with the score goalless at halftime, Japan came out in the 2nd half and blitzed the Belgium’s, scoring 2 quick goals. This setback for the Red Devil’s sparked a change and Roberto Martinez brought on Manchester United star Marouane Fellaini in the 64th minute which immediately got the team on the front foot. Within 5 minutes of Fellaini’s introduction, Tottenham defender, Jan Vertonghen scored a looping header past the Japanese goalkeeper. Five minutes later, Marouane scored himself, heading the Belgium equaliser. With time running out and both teams preparing for a further 30 minutes entertainment, the Belgium’s with a fluent counter-attack got the winner. West Brom’s Nacer Chadli got onto the end of a superb move to slot home to sink Japan and give Belgium their 4th win in Russia. This should be a great game with plenty of goals, but the back 3 of Belgium might be overrun and Brazil should come out on top.
Brazil Win 4-2
RUSSIA v CROATIA
Host nation Russia have certainly surpassed all expectations in progressing to the quarterfinals. After being overwhelming favourites to lose their last 16 tie against Spain they frustrated the 2010 World Cup winners and won a brilliant penalty shootout. Sergey Ignashevich got the Russian’s off to the worst possible start against the Spaniard’s scoring an own goal in the 12th minute. With President Putin watching on, Sergey must have been fearing the worst and a transfer to Siberian FC was on the cards. Barcelona defender Gerard Pique inexplicably punched the bull in the penalty area and the referee had no choice but to award the Russian’s a penalty. Artem Dzyuba took the penalty and coolly slotted home just before halftime. The 2nd half was goalless and a further 30 minutes couldn’t separate these to sides so penalties ensued. Russia didn’t miss and Sergey scored his, giving him a reprieve in front of Mr Putin. The Host Nation knock Spain out of the World Cup. Brilliant.
Croatia, like Uruguay, are quietly going about their business and played in a very strange last 16 game against Denmark. The game finished 1-1, however, the strange fact was both goals were scored within the first 4 minutes of the game. Croatia were a goal down in the 1st minute when Denmark and Huddersfield defender Mathias Jorgensen scored for the Danes. Within 3 minutes, Croatia equalised through Juventus ace Mário Mandzukic. So 4 minutes gone and 2 goals. That was that the game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes then a further 30 minutes couldn’t separate the sides, however, Luka Modric could have won the tie with 4 minutes to go but missed a penalty. He redeemed himself in the shootout and scored Croatia’s 3rd of the 5. Unfortunately, the standard of penalties wasn’t that high and out of the 10 taken, 5 were missed. As 3 were missed by The Danes, Croatia won the thrilling if not high standard penalty shootout and set up this brilliant quarter-final against Russia.
With home advantage and Putin’s Batphone, Russia could actually reach the Semifinals by way of another penalty shootout.
Contact John Newsome, with your own predictions, requests and feedback, at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org