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The World Cup of soccer is down to the Final Four

England had no problem disposing of Sweden, 2-0, but Croatia had a tussle with host Russia before prevailing, 4- 3, on penalty kicks

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

Sweden looked beaten at halftime.

The Swedes, who had no book on England, couldn’t respond to the game played by England. Very few times did they get the ball in range of the goal, and when they did, the defense was waiting.

England and Sweden had played each other four times and split one-goal games. So it was expected to be a tight match at Saturday morning’s quarterfinals of the World Cup of soccer.

But it wasn’t. The young,  but composed Englishmen scored twice in the first half and that was all they needed in the 2-0 win that moved them into the semifinals for the first time since 1998, and the last time they won it was back in 1966.

Not much was known about this England group, but head coach Gareth Southgate took over and had them playing well right from the start.

“These guys are great to coach,” he said. “They listen and do the right things. Now we are in the semifinals and people are beginning to know us.”

Sweden had a bad start even after getting the ball past midfield. But England quickly took it away and hurried to the Swede goal, getting off four shots but not getting the ball in the goal despite some quality passes.

But after keeping the Swedes back in their own end, it wasn’t long before team captain Harvey Kane, in a shot from the left side of the goal and the team’s top player and leading scorer brought a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the English worked to score again, and did so via a corner kick that turned into a header into the net from Jonas Dileo.

This brought the red-hot English ever more confidence and they had control until the final whistle. Sweden appeared to give up at times and spent other time arguing with one another and the referee from Argentina.

“We don’t panic,” said Southgate, “and we all get along. Now we will see who we play next.”

And in London there were crowds at the airport, on the streets, and in the arenas.

Now comes Croatia on Tuesday. Croatia in fact got a surprise from host Russia before winning on penalty kicks, 4-3. For Russia and Croatia, it was the second straight time they went through regulation and two 15-minute extra times and came down to the shootouts.

Croatia was favored, but was outplayed in the first half when Russia took a 1-0 lead midway through the half. The hosts continued to apply the pressure early in the second half, but when alert Croatia got in the way of a Russian pass, it quickly drove to the Russian goal and evened the score at 1-1.

Despite this, Russia remained impressive, especially on defense. But Croatia’s defense was better and it closed in beyond midfield to pick off a Russian pass and it resulted in a goal that put it ahead 2-1.

Except that Russia didn’t fade. With three minutes to go in regulation, it converged on the goal and booted in the tying goal.

The two extra times went scoreless, and in the penalty kicks Russia went in front 2-1 before itmissed two in a row and Croatia answered with three straight scores.

In the other semis on Wednesday, it will be France meeting up with Belgium. Eliminated were the big 3 — Brazil, Argentina and Germany – so the championship trophy will be up for grabs among Belgium, Croatia, England and France. The updated odds favor England, with France right behind. All four countries hope to have many supporters in the stands, watching on television, and whooping it up in the streets.

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