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Croatia ends Russia’s World Cup dream on penalties

England moves into semifinals after win over Sweden

By Reuters - Jul 08,2018 - Last updated at Jul 08,2018

Croatia’s Danijel Subasic saves a penalty during their penalty shootout against Russia at the 2018 World Cup in Sochi on Saturday (Reuters photo by Kai Pfaffenbach)

Croatia ended Russia's unlikely World Cup dream when it won 4-3 on penalties to eliminate the gallant host after a dramatic quarter-final ended 2-2 after extra time on Saturday.

Ivan Rakitic stroked home the winning penalty to send Croatia into a semifinal against England after a night of unremitting tension in Sochi, ending the remarkable campaign of a team ranked 70th in the world.

Fyodor Smolov saw Russia's first penalty saved by Danijel Subasic and, although Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saved a Mateo Kovacic kick, the hosts' fate was sealed when Mario Fernandes fired completely wide from their third attempt.

In the previous 120 minutes, Denis Cheryshev rifled Russia in front with a long-range thunderbolt, his fourth goal of the tournament, in the 31st minute before Andrej Kramaric headed Croatia level six minutes before halftime.

Croatia then went ahead with a soft header in the eleventh minute of extra time but Brazilian-born Fernandes headed the hosts level with five minutes of play remaining to send the game to penalties.

Russia had already surpassed expectations by reaching the last eight, ousting Spain on the way.

After a lively opening, the game dropped off, with sessions of head tennis in midfield, but it was Russia's more rustic approach which paid off first as they went ahead out of the blue.

Cheryshev collected the ball near the halfway line, exchanged passes with Artem Dzyuba and curled a 25-metre shot past Subasic.

But slack defending allowed Croatia to level eight minutes later. Mario Mandzukic ran unchallenged into the penalty area and chipped a low ball back into the centre where unmarked Kramaric scored with a glancing header.

Croatia was agonisingly close to scoring on the hour when Russia's defence failed to clear the ball and Ivan Perisic's shot hit the inside of the post but rebounded harmlessly across the face of the goal.

Croatia appeared to have the tie in the bag after Vida's extra-time goal until Fernandes rose to head in a free kick and send both teams to their second penalty shootout of the tournament.

 

28 year wait over

 

Headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli fired an impressive England into the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 28 years after it eased its way to a 2-0 victory over a dogged but disappointing Sweden on Saturday.

Maguire opened the scoring in the 30th minute at the Samara Arena and Alli doubled the lead after the break as Gareth Southgate's young squad continued to defy dampened pre-tournament expectations with another confident display.

For once it was not Harry Kane who claimed the plaudits as the tournament's top scorer was kept quiet, but England found another hero at the other end of the pitch as Jordan Pickford produced three superb saves to shut out the workmanlike Swedes.

Croatia, lower ranked than Gareth Southgate's side, is all that stands between England and a first World Cup final since it lifted the trophy in 1966.

Sweden had reached the quarter-finals by making life hard for supposedly superior opponents and it was easy to see why after a dour opening when England looked incapable of stringing passes together against their hardworking opponents.

It was predictable in many ways, therefore, that the deadlock was broken from a set piece.

England had laboured without reward before Ashley Young lined up a corner on the left and his curled effort was met by Maguire charging forward with conviction and barging Emil Forsberg out of his way to power a header down into the net.

That was England's eighth set-piece goal at this World Cup, but, while they are seemingly lethal from dead balls, apart from Kane they are not blessed with too many other sharp shooters.

The killer blow arrived in the 59th minute as Jesse Lingard's teasing cross into the box was met by Alli unmarked at the far post to head powerfully past Olsen.

England had not kept a clean sheet in their four previous matches and had Pickford to thank for ensuring it did not concede this time.

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