And then there were four!
So we’ve now had the quarter-finals of this year’s World Cup, and we know who the semi-finalists are: France, Belgium, England and Croatia.
Incredibly, this is now the first World Cup ever in which not one of the big three – Brazil, Argentina or Germany – will feature at this stage of the tournament. It really is starting to feel a bit like this competition marks the changing of the guard, as the old footballing powers are replaced by the new.
The first game in the quarter finals was France Uruguay. France never quite hit the heights they managed in their incredible 4-3 win over Argentina, but then again, they never really needed to, as without the injured Edinson Cavani, Uruguay looked a bit toothless and lacked any real bite – despite Luis Suárez’s enthusiasm for sinking his teeth into opponents on occasion!). Shortly before half-time, Raphael Varane scored with a lovely glancing header from Griezmann’s free kick. Uruguay almost struck back immediately from a free-kick of their own, but the French keeper Hugo Lloris produced a brilliant diving stop to deny Martin Caceres, before Diego Godin blasted the rebound over the bar. France went in one-nil up at the break.
France then sealed the victory (=made it certain that they would win) on the hour mark with a gift of a goal. Griezmann let fly (=hit the ball hard at the goal) with a speculative shot (=made hoping it might go in, but not really expecting it to) from the edge of the box. There was then a real howler (=a terrible mistake, often one that leads to a goal) from the Uruguayan keeper Muslera, who tried to parry it (=push it away to the side), but ended up palming the ball into his own net. As an ex-goalkeeper myself, I really felt for him. It was game over and there was no way back for Uruguay.
The last Latin American team left in were now Brazil, but they too crashed out to European opposition, losing 2-1 to Belgium in one of the most exciting games of the tournament. Brazil had only conceded one goal in their past four games, but went behind when Chadli’s early corner struck Fernandinho’s arm and flew into the net, the 10th own goal of this World Cup! Then, on the half-hour mark, Kevin de Bruyne doubled Belgium’s lead with a clinical finish from 20 yards out after Lukaku’s powerful breakaway run. Brazil changed formation at half-time and came out as a 4-4-2, which helped to stem the Belgian tide (=stop the Belgian attacks).
Augusto pulled one back for the five-time winners, heading home Coutinho’s beautfiul little chip. Neymar drifted in and out of the game, and we saw more of the terrible play-acting and cheating he seems so prone to. Brazil missed a couple of half-chances as the game progressed, but Belgium defended like their lives depended on it – and also always looked dangerous on the break with De Bruyne really running the show and pulling all the strings. 2-1 it finished.
After such excitement, it was almost inevitable that the England Sweden game would be a bit of an anticlimax. It was a slow, nervy start (=both teams looked nervous) and both teams seemed to be playing with the handbrake on (=not playing at full speed, not moving forward quickly or comfortably). The deadlock was finally broken after half an hour, when England scored from a set piece (=a corner or a free kick). Ashley Young whipped in a corner and Harry Maguire’s powerful header found the back of the net. Raheem Sterling then fluffed a good chance (=failed to score from a good opportunity) and it was one-nil to England at the break.
Early on in the second half, the England keeper Jordan Pickford made a superb save from Marcus Berg, before England sealed their victory with a Dele Alli header in e 58th minute. The last half an hour passed without any real incident of note, and England have reached their first World Cup semi-final for 28 years!
The final game of the quarter finals saw hosts Russia take on Croatia. It was a game of high drama. After an energetic, fast-paced start, Russia took the lead when Denis Cheryshev curled a magnificent shot into the top corner. Andrej Kramaric then headed home an equaliser for Croatia after Mario Mandzukic was given too much space to cross. At half-time it was one all and the game was beautifully poised (=very finely balanced, and it could go either way).
However, as the second half wore on, extra time started looking more and more likely. Neither team was willing to commit too many men forward, for fear of being left too open at the back, but at the same time, neither team wanted to sit too deep (=stay too close to their own goal and not go forward) as that would invite pressure. Things reached a kind of stalemate and by the end of the 90 minutes, both sets of players looked exhausted.
Croatia must’ve thought they had won it when Vida struck (=scored) from a corner in the 100th minute, only for Brazilian-born Fernandes to force penalties with a dramatic headed equaliser. By now, the pitch was littered with the walking wounded and I was wondering how on earth the Croatian keeper, Subasic, would cope with penalties. In the end, though, despite the home advantage, Russia somehow lost 4-3 on penalties, but can go out with their heads held high.
London waits with bated breath for Wednesday night!
- Do you like watching penalty shootouts or do you prefer it if the game finishes in normal time?
- Which other teams do you think can go home with their heads held high?
- What do you think has been the most exciting game of the tournament so far? Why?
- Can you think of any other howlers you’ve seen players make?
- When was the last time you really felt for someone? Why?