Sweden vs England (July 6, 2018 3:00pm)
This world cup confounded bookmakers with yet another surprise result yesterday, most would have expected France to beat Uruguay but not in that emphatic fashion; Belgium are quite talented but were you expecting them to oust Brazil that clinically? Step forward 3Lions of England, the boys of the Queen file out today against a bogey team, one they have always struggled with. In 2002, question marks were hugely around the fitness of David Beckham who had broken his metatarsal in the wee hours of the league season that year, England were boring to say the least against the Swedes, sending long balls up field to Michael Owen and Emile Heskey who got nothing on the Swede center backs.
There is something uniquely strange about this bunch of English players, they seem to be a different breed, maybe not as talented as the class of 2002 through 2006 but they look hungrier, no showman like Becks or Rooney, no big name in defense like Rio Ferdinand and John Terry but they do have tournament golden boot hopeful, Harry Kane and a young squad of roaring cubs.
Sweden didn’t get here easily, they were solid even in the gnashing defeat to Germany, they employed the basics against Switzerland at the second round, surprised many by taking Mexico, new favourites to the cleaners to top the group ahead of the Americans who would later lose to Brazil. Granqvist and Forsberg have been the ones carrying the team on their shoulders, top quality players with guts, their midfield has been disciplined and they need all the focus they can muster against the 3Lions.
It feels very much like 1966 all over again, big guns are crashing out, the favourable right side of the divide with less scary teams give England this unfair advantage, they’re not meeting Brazil, France or Portugal, at least until the final, which must be on their minds in that loss to Belgium, if they win here, they will face either France or Belgium at a point where they would have the trophy at the sidelines, but they must bear in mind that they still have the winners of Russia vs Croatia to face at the semis too… until then, they have Sweden to attend to.
Ramsey’s Verdict: Sweden to advance
Dipo’s Verdict: England to advance
Russia vs Croatia (July 7, 2018 7:00pm)
Russia have already overachieved, unbelievable stuff, who would have thought that Russia, the host with loads of average players would make it this far? Come on they dumped Spain out of the competition with the most composed performance ever, they finished second behind Uruguay in a group where a lot of people expected Egypt to progress, the Africans didn’t pick a point. Give it to Russia, they are genuinely the most encouraging based on the fact that they’re the most untalented bunch yet defying odds. Word on the street was that even their fans didn’t believe in them prior to the start of the World Cup.
Let’s talk Croatia shall we? The Croats didn’t need third gear against a shaky Nigerian side that didn’t turn up until the second half, but they proved their credentials against Argentina, since then they have been watched with both eyes, they didn’t sparkle against Denmark and were actually lucky with the shootouts but to be champions they need some bit of luck.
On paper, it’s Croatia’s to lose, but if you saw Russia against Spain you’ll have a rethink on that, statistics favor the Croats, the quality of their rich midfield explains why it’s hard to set up against them, the intelligence of Luka Modric, the vision of Ivan Rakitic, the precision of Brozovic and the options from their wide men, Perisic and Rebic, it would be a very long night for the hosts.
Russia don’t have gladiators, but they do have hungry men who want a piece of the glory, Germany claimed bronze as hosts in 2006, Brazil and South Korea in Rio at the last edition and 2002 respectively and quite rightly as a surprise although a lot of questions would be asked of officiating. Ignatshevic, Golovin and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev will rely on the compact nature of their squad, the way they attack and defend together as well as their guts going forward.
Russia must be disciplined, they won’t see the ball even as much as they did against Spain, Croatia won’t give much away.
Verdict: Croatia to advance
Strictly the writer’s opinion
Feature image: Waterford Whisper News