It’s not coming home for England

A berth in the final of the World Cup was at stake and England were 120 minutes away from having a chance to bring football home, but a 2-1 loss to Croatia means they will instead play for third place on Saturday.

England came off a 2-0 win against Sweden while Croatia defeated hosts Russia on penalty kicks. England’s inability to close out the match after scoring early saw Croatia grow in confidence. A lone goal by Kieran Trippier was followed by an equalizer by Ivan Perisic and an eventual winner in extra time by Mario Mandzukic. Emotionally, Gareth Southgate’s team went from the highest of highs to the absolute lowest of lows across the 120 minutes.

Kieran Trippier gave the Three Lions a dream start. Just minutes into the semi-final match, Trippier gave England a 1-0 lead following a fantastic free kick. Gareth Southgate’s men looked sharper and quicker when compared to their counterparts on the day but as the match went on, Croatia grew in confidence and England let the match slip away.

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Sweden 0-2 England: Jordans key to victory

In their first quarter final appearance at a FIFA World Cup since losing to Portugal on penalties in 2006 in Germany, England ensured that the dream of football coming home is alive and well after a 2-0 win against Sweden. A fantastic display once more by Jordan Pickford along with two headed goals by Harry Maguire and Dele Alli meant that the Three Lions are in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup for the first time since the 1990 edition.

A goalkeeper who is capable of playing with his feet helped Gareth Southgate’s team to build from the back, and Pickford made 20 passes (13 of which came from inside his area). Not only that, against Sweden, England kept their first clean sheet of the entire tournament thanks to his impressive saves. That and coming off the back of a first ever penalty shootout win at a World Cup can only help the team grow in confidence.

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France 4-3 Argentina: Messi’s World Cup dream is over

Despite scoring three goals in a knockout stage match, the World Cup dream has ended for Lionel Messi and his country. Angel Di Maria, Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Aguero all found the back of the net but a powerful France side were too much for the Albiceleste.

For the fourth time at the FIFA World Cup, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli set out a different eleven with a different formation altogether. This time, he benched both Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, robbing the team of any real threat in and around the penalty area as Lionel Messi was supposed to play the false number nine role. While hindsight may be 20/20, it ended up failing.

Starting the match without a real out-and-out striker may have cost Argentina, especially when combined with the defensive fragility of the team. Lionel Messi played in the false number nine role yet despite coming on as a second half substitute, Sergio Aguero measured higher than him on the Twelve leaderboard. The Manchester City man finished second overall in Argentinean players behind Gabriel Mercado.

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Nigeria 1-2 Argentina: Messi bailed out at last

One draw, one loss and one magical win were enough to see Argentina progress to the second round of the FIFA World Cup, in large part thanks to Lionel Messi, Ever Banega and Marcos Rojo. Still unsure as to whether it was coach Jorge Sampaoli or the players themselves which picked the starting eleven against Nigeria, all that can be said is whoever picked the team ensured it was better than what we saw against Croatia. Lionel Messi cannot do it alone, no player can, and the inclusion of midfielder Ever Banega helped in Messi seeing much of the ball.

Banega, who received his first ever start at a FIFA World Cup was arguably man of the match. Looking at Twelve’s overall leaderboard, there’s no surprise he was in the top three alongside Messi.

Taking a look at the graphic below, when in attack, Banega was everywhere and it all started with the lovely assist for Lionel Messi’s goal. A ball through the air found Messi who controlled the ball in a way only Messi can, and he finished with his right foot.

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Argentina 0-3 Croatia: Messi and Argentina outclassed by Croatia’s midfield

All eyes and pressure were on Lionel Messi and his Argentina team during their second group stage match against Croatia. Unfortunately for the little magician, it was his Barcelona team mate Ivan Rakitić and club rival Luka Modrić who stole the show.

Up against a very talented, hard working and organized Croatian side, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli was naïve enough to completely give up the midfield and put the emphasis on wing play which cost his team dearly. For a country (which historically speaking) has produced world class midfielders such as Juan Román Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Fernando Redondo and Juan Sebastián Verón (to name but a few), it was frustrating to watch the team pull away from tradition and completely give away the middle of the pitch.

The midfield duo of Rakitić and Modrić gave Argentina a footballing lesson in how to control, press and dominate the game from midfield as if the Albiceleste were a country with no footballing past.


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