Croatia 2-2 Russia (4-3 pens): An ode to Modric but problems still persist

Croatia are the last semi-finalist of the World Cup after Vatreni got past Russia on penalties. Croatian people waited two decades for this to happen. Vatreni finally did it, but it was really rough, dramatic and thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over the hosts at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, following a 2-2 draw after 30 minutes of extra time.

Croatia have knocked out the host nation at a World Cup for the first time in their third attempt, following unsuccessful battles against France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014.

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Belgium beat off Brazilian fightback

Belgium managed to fight off a late Brazilian resistance to beat the Seleção 2-1 in the Kazan Arena.

Roberto Martinez decided to reward his super substitutes from the previous match against Japan by starting Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini instead of Mertens and Carrasco, in a move that was highly praised after their excellent performances last Monday.

Brazil started the game brightly dominating possession and Belgium got lucky when Brazil nearly took the lead in the 8th minute when Thiago Silva latched onto a corner but could not get the correct contact and the ball instead hit the post from 4 yards out.

The Red Devils took the lead in the 13th minute after Fernandinho scored an own goal from a corner. The goal came against the run of play which helped the Belgian side’s morale a lot.

In the 31st minute, Romelu Lukaku drove forward from his own half brilliantly beating a number of Brazilian midfielders. Once he reached midway through the Brazilian half he played the ball off to Kevin De Bruyne who let fire from outside the box giving Belgium a 2-0 lead. KDB hit the ball so sweetly that it didn’t rotate in the air as it was fired into the bottom left corner.

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The stats don’t lie! Sweden had a very good World Cup.

In interviews after their 2-0 defeat to England, Andreas Granqvist, Emil Forsberg and the other Swedish players gave a similar message. They were disappointed, feeling England had got the better of them on the day, but they were also proud of what they had achieved.

And so they should be. Granqvist, in particular, has put in amazing performances at this World Cup.

After the quarter-final match, Granqvist joined three other of our top five ranked players (all three from Brazil) on the journey home. His defence and his power driving the team forward remains something he should be proud of. He is the foundation on which Sweden were built.

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Uruguay’s last breath was a sad metaphor of their own

The great question for Uruguay was how to maintain their game model without Edison Cavani. As we talked about here, Uruguay’s strength is based on their duos’ work: Godin & Gimenez at the back and Suarez & Cavani at the front. Throughout the World Cup, there was no midfield build-up play star man or ideas that pushed the team to work the ball from the middle.

Tabarez likes the long balls. It was always like that, and there’s no difference in this 2018 team. Well, Cavani had important work as forward, sometimes building deep position in the six yard box, other times opening the field creating chances and giving assistance.

Against France, Cristhian Stuani, a 31 year old forward from Girona FC, was responsible for replacing the PSG star man, and replicating all his actions on the pitch. That would be a burden for any player, but especially for an ordinary forward with no great international background.

Looking at his Twelve dashboard, Stuani scored -14 points in 58 minutes played. A really terrible performance by a player who is expected to be a great part of the scene. A lot of errors and a poor job with the ball made Stuani’s performance forgettable.

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Uruguay 0-2 France: Mastery by the Uruguayan from Macôn

Just like in a movie script, the game between Uruguay and France was decided by the French player who feels Uruguayan. Antoine Griezmann did not even celebrate his goal, but he really was the “Man of the Match” in Nizhny Novgorod, where France assured a place in the semi-finals.

For the second goal it may be inevitable to talk about the incredible error of Fernando Muslera, but the merits of the French number 7 were mainly displayed in Varane’s goal, given the perfection with which he served his colleague via a free kick. To avoid Godin and Giménez’ aerial power, France bet on the anticipation. A poisonous approach from Deschamps’ team, who used an opponent’s weapon to put the game in their own favour.

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World Cup 2018, Last 16 Review

While we had been producing daily reviews during the group stage, in the first knock-out round we had writers covering every match so it wasn’t necessary. You can find our ‘Round of 16’ collection here, and we’ll just take a quick look at some of the overall top performers here.

The Sergios dominated at the top of the charts; Ramos of Spain earned the most points in total, whereas Aguero of Argentina topped the points per minute ladder.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed something in Ramos’ dashboard – namely a penalty scored in the shootout. These go into the players’ tallies, so anyone whose side didn’t settle their tie in 120 minutes can have a bit of an advantage here.

Unless they miss that is. Right, Jordan?

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Sweden 1-0 Switzerland: the Swedes can deliver more goals

The pattern is familiar throughout football. A player shoots over and the crowd sighs, the people watching at home swear and the TV commentators say that “at this level” the finishing has to be better.

This was the picture for Sweden in the first half against Switzerland, as it had been in their first half against South Korea and Mexico. Sweden had created chances but they hadn’t been converted. The worst culprits, singled out by the pundits at halftime, were Emil Forsberg and Marcus Berg. Why do they keep missing or having their “weak” attempts saved? And quite soon the talk turns to a certain rather tall gentleman who now plays his club football in Los Angeles. The cry is the same as it has been since 2002: “in with Zlatan”!

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Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 pens): Unrecognizable Colombia flying home

From a tactical perspective, it was not the brightest match from the Cafeteros. Pekerman’s strategy was to stop the ball circulation from England’s midfielders and that was crucial for a team with such offensive vocation.

We saw in our previous analyses how Juan Quintero plays a central role on Colombia’s team, and how all the build-up thinking passes thorough him.

Well, when Colombia most needed the football from his ball wizard, Quintero had his worst performance in the tournament. Aggravated by the absence of star man James Rodriguez, we saw a Colombian team worried more about American referee Mark Geiger’s actions rather than it’s own football playing.

Quintero scored 662 points in 88 minutes, an average of 7.5 points per minute, and he only played one important pass on Twelve’s dashboard (worth 86 points at minute 75). A very poor production from such a key player.

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Brazil 2-0 México: The elegant gentleman strikes again

Brazil faced Mexico with awareness. Juan Carlos Osorio is a master of the unpredictable, and his mutant team is able to show different faces in the field. What never changes is the velocity with which they exchange passes and positions.

México came with high pressing commanded by the trident Lozano-Chicharito-Vela. It gave Brazil a hard time for the initial 20 minutes, especially because they inverted sides when attacking, with many diagonal balls. However, Thiago Silva and Miranda stood steadily through the storm, and when it stopped, it became clear that the match was about Brazil getting the spot in the quarterfinals.

That made an Argentinian on Twitter write this funny conclusion after half an hour:

“México is that poor guy that fell in love with his friend but never dares to tell her. His sneaking attempts are in vain, he knows he can’t make it, yet never surrenders, while Brazil is this elegant gentleman who conquers her only by smiling.”

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