Russia Review: Day Nineteen

Each day at the 2018 FIFA World Cup has seen stars born on the global stage, and Day Nineteen was no different.

The day centred around two proud European countries making their long-awaited return to the last eight of the World Cup, but it wasn’t without its drama as we witnessed tensions running high, spectacular saves and yet another penalty shootout.

This latest chapter at Russia 2018 saw certain heroes writing their names into World Cup history.

Solitary goal sees Sweden trump Switzerland to last eight place

Sweden set up a quarter final meeting with England thanks to a narrow victory over Switzerland in St Petersburg.

A second half deflected effort from Emil Forsberg was enough for Sweden to overcome the Swiss and set up their first quarter final match since 1994.

The first half was the typical opening period of a knockout tie. It was a sparring match at best, with neither side prepared to seriously commit men forward in attack, fearful of the opposition.

Switzerland bossed the possession, but failed to find an opening through a stubborn Swedish defence.

The best chance of the half fell the way of Sweden, who capitalised on a zippy ball in the box to release an effort that forced a brilliant reflexes save by Yann Sommer.

Blerim Dzemaili came close for the Swiss when his shot culminated a brilliant passing move for Vladimir Petkovic’s side, but ultimately the Bologna midfielder blaised his effort high and wide of the target.

Albin Ekdal of Sweden miss judged a cross late in the half and opted to volley the effort which would have been better headed.

Despite the end to end nature of the half, neither team had any clear cut chances and it was goalless as the whistle went to signal the end of the opening period.

Sweden were happy with the scores level, looking assured on and off the ball, whilst also creating chances on the counter attack.

Emil Forsberg, who was tipped as Sweden’s best creative threat in Russia, was on top form. The Leipzig man danced through defenders at ease all afternoon and was unlucky when he picked out Toivonen in the box, who fluffed his lines.

Forsberg may have been unlucky on that occasion, but it was evident he had luck on his side a few minutes later.

The ball rolled to Forsberg on the edge of the box. He eased past Granit Xhaka who committed himself too early, before striking the ball goalwards.

His effort cruelly deflected off the Swiss defender Manuel Akanji, completely wrong-footing Sommer to put Sweden in the lead.

Emil Forsberg is the third generation of Forsberg’s to play in the Swedish team after grandad Lennart and dad Leif.

From here, Sweden looked incredibly solid, with Switzerland creating nothing. Despite this, the crossing abilities of Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez are deadly so they had to be careful.

With seconds to go, Sweden broke through and had a three against one advantage bearing down on goal. The ball was slipped through to Martin Olsson who should have scored, but went down easily under a challenge.

The referee pointed to the spot and showed a red card to Michael Lang of Switzerland, however overturned the decision and awarded a free kick.

The set play was fired over but Sweden didn’t care. The full time whistle went which signified that Janne Andersonn’s side had reached their first quarter final since 1994.

In the first tournament of the post-Zlatan era, Sweden have been a much more collectively solid defensive unit, still possessing a goal threat going forward.

England will know that Sweden are no walkover in the next round.

England end penalty curse to crush Colombian dream and reach quarters

England won a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time in their history to reach the quarter-finals, despite initially conceding a stoppage time equaliser against Colombia.

In what was an eventful and aggressive game, tournament top scorer Harry Kane gave his side the advantage from the penalty spot shortly before the hour mark after being hauled down in the area from a corner.

The Three Lions appeared to be heading for their first tournament knockout victory in 12 years when goalkeeper Jordan Pickford showed great reflexes to keep out a speculative volley from Mateus Uribe.

Colombia did get their equaliser from the resulting corner as Yerry Mina headed in, but after leading in the shootout, the South Americans missed two penalties in succession which allowed Eric Dier to send England through.

Clear-cut chances were few and far between during the match, and particularly in the first half. The closest England came was through a Kane header after a good move down the right, but the Spurs striker at full-stretch could only loop his effort over David Ospina and the crossbar.

The major talking point of the opening 45 minutes came however when England won a free-kick in a dangerous position.

Whilst the busy American referee Mark Geiger was organising the Colombian wall, tensions were running high as midfielder Wilmar Barrios took the opportunity to leave a number on England’s Jordan Henderson.

The Colombian glanced towards his marker, before planting his head into the Liverpool man’s chest and then moving in an upward direction towards his chin.

Henderson was left floored and with his head in hands, but despite teammate Harry Maguire calling for the referee to review the decision for himself, Geiger took advice from his VAR officials before brandishing the yellow card to Barrios.

And if they weren’t already, Colombia’s intentions were made clear at half-time.

Whilst jogging off the pitch, England’s Raheem Sterling was barged into by an opposition coach who then proceeded to claim the forward had been aggressive towards him. The fourth official witnessed the incident, and warned the perpetrator to watch his conduct, but despite Colombia’s best efforts, England kept their cool.

But if the first half was bad, the second was even worse.

Geiger had picked up on the Colombian aggression, and finally punished them ten minutes after the interval.

Kieran Trippier floated a corner towards the back post, and with ex-Aston Villa man Carlos Sanchez almost rugby tackling Kane to the ground, the referee had no choice but to award England the penalty.

A three-minute melee ensued as the Colombians protested their innocence whilst even scuffing the penalty spot in an attempt to hinder Kane’s chances, but England’s captain refused to be phased, as he became the first Three Lions player to score in six successive internationals since 1939.

The Tottenham man stepped up against his North London rival Ospina, and as the goalkeeper dived the way his opponent had sent both Panama penalties, Kane coolly placed it down the middle to give England the lead – and justice.

Dele Alli could have made it two not long after, but he failed to keep his header from another dangerous Trippier delivery down.

England were looking comfortable and keeping their calm in a bid to see the result through, but on an evening of very few opportunities, Colombia’s big chance came with just over five minutes remaining.

Sloppy play from Kyle Walker saw the Manchester City man gift possession away to lively substitute Carlos Bacca, but after shifting the ball right and finding Juan Cuadrado with time and space in the box, the Juventus winger blazed it high and wide – spurning what looked to be his team’s best chance of an equaliser.

But as the game appeared to be petering out in added time, an unexpected moment of true inspiration nearly forced the game into an extra 30 minutes.

A long ball forward was headed away by John Stones, but as Jesse Lingard and Henderson both went to collect the loose ball, substitute Uribe came flying in with an unbelievable volley from 35 yards that caught our everyone – except Pickford.

The Everton keeper reacted quickly to produce a spectacular save, as jaws dropped across the globe in awe at what was very nearly the goal of the tournament to keep Colombia’s dream alive.

But in typical England fashion, Pickford’s brilliance wasn’t to be admired for long.

Cuadrado curled the resulting corner in, and towering above the masses in the box was 6 ft 5 centre half Yerry Mina, who powered a header into the ground and in off the bar to score his third of the tournament, despite Trippier’s best efforts on the line to keep it out.

England were stunned and greeted by an eruption of sheer elation inside the Spartak Stadium, as the thousands of Colombian supporters celebrated their astonishing late show. They weren’t finished yet.

As the game entered extra time, Southgate’s men struggled to recover and deal with the disappointment of throwing the game away so late, and Colombia looked the more likely despite failing to create any openings of note.

The Three Lions did respond however during the second period and went closest through Danny Rose who burst forward from full-back and fired a low, first-time shot across the goal and inches wide, but the game seemed destined for penalties and that’s exactly where it went.

Fans across England were left staring the daunting prospect of another failed penalty shootout in the face, and as Henderson was denied by a brilliant Ospina save after a perfect first five spot-kicks, the words “here we go again” will have been muttered in more than one London living room.

Uribe, who was so unfortunately denied by Pickford late on, stepped up to take Colombia’s fourth, and like Radamel Falcao and Cuadrado before him, went for sheer power.

But despite this, he was kept out again – not by Pickford, but this time by the crossbar, as his effort cannoned back out.

England were given a lifeline, and up stepped their set-piece specialist Trippier, who may have still had the Colombian equaliser on his mind after failing to stop it on the line.

The Spurs man bravely put all that behind him however, and lashed a right foot effort into the left corner of the goal and England were all-square again.

AC Milan’s Bacca came forward for his side’s fifth, and as was the case with Uribe – despite making a positive impact from the bench – he was left wondering what might have been as Pickford guessed the right way and got a strong left hand to the strike and make it match point England.

Jamie Vardy was meant to be his side’s final penalty taker, but having sustained a slight groin injury, the responsibility rested with Eric Dier.

But despite having the nation’s hopes on his shoulders and the heartbreak of years gone by weighing him down, Dier kept his nerve to hammer his shot low into the bottom left corner and send England fans everywhere into jubilation.

They may have been trailing, but England had finally won a penalty shootout. For some it was surreal, for others it was simply the feeling of relief, but after all the talk of the gamble taken in resting players against Belgium and finishing second in Group G, Southgate’s army had passed the Colombian test, and will now fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

Player of the Day – Jordan Pickford (England)

Gareth Southgate’s England side have been breaking all sorts of records and rewriting history at this summer’s World Cup.

Most of these have centered around Harry Kane. The striker has already equalled Gary Lineker’s record number of goals scored by an Englishman at a single World Cup (six), whilst also becoming only the third Three Lions player to score a hat-trick in the competition and the first to score in six consecutive England appearances since 1939.

England also claimed their biggest World Cup win ever against Panama and have finally won a penalty shootout on football’s greatest stage, largely thanks to a young man making history of his own.

At the age of 24, Everton’s Jordan Pickford is the youngest goalkeeper to ever play for England at a major tournament.

For the most part of his time in Russia, Pickford has had relatively little to do, but the pressure was ramped up after his side’s defeat to Belgium, with Thibaut Courtois criticising his opposite number after failing to keep out Adnan Januzaj’s winner on the night.

But Pickford knows how to deal with pressure. Following relegation with Sunderland despite having a terrific breakthrough season individually, the local boy earned a £30m move to Everton, and continued to impress.

He was named the Merseyside club’s Player of the Season for his performances, and on Tuesday night showed exactly why he’s so highly-rated in Liverpool, as well as the rest of the nation.

Despite Colombia creating little, Pickford was alert and on his toes deep into stoppage time to keep out a speculative yet brilliant 35-yard volley from Mateus Uribe with a huge left-handed save.

There was nothing he could do from the resulting corner as the South Americans forced the game into extra time, but as penalties came around, Pickford proved his worth again and showed the nation that Gareth Southgate had made the correct decision in making him his tournament number one ahead of both Nick Pope and Jack Butland.

Pickford may not be the tallest of goalkeepers at 6 ft 1, but was clearly an imposing figure for the Colombians. Uribe hit the bar when he could’ve given his side match point in the shootout, and then the man from the North East kept out Carlos Bacca emphatically, with a save that will be spoken about for generations should England continue their journey and go deep into the tournament.

Having represented England at all age groups from u16 right through to the senior team, Pickford is silencing any critics he has had, including Courtois, and should England progress into the semis past Sweden and Belgium fall to Brazil, maybe the Chelsea shot-stopper will be wishing England’s latest hero had caught Januzaj’s effort – as he claimed he would have done.

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