joi, 5 iulie 2018

Not coming home

Sweden - Switzerland 1-1
England - Colombia 1-1 (4-3 penalties)

Sweden - Switzerland was the battle of the undeserving, neither team having played well enough to reach the knock-out stage. I saw the game as going slightly Switzerland's way, as they seemed the better team, had a star player (Shaqiri) and a marginally better evolution in their group, drawing Brazil and beating an underachieving Serbia, albeit by a lucky shot in the last minute. Sweden, on the other hand, looked like a team almost incapable to score, and I still don't understand the miracle through which they beat Mexico 3-0 and topped their group. So I called the game for Switzerland, and I was wrong. Sweden was the team in charge of the proceedings, showing a lot more initiative going forward. The Swiss might've been the most talented bunch, but they hit a brick wall running into a very compact and rigid Swedish defense, made up of 8-9 people for the most part. While the Swiss didn't manage to pose much of a danger throughout, even after they fell behind, the Swedes did create chances in front of goal, but their finishers were so laughably incompetent that the shots went in any and all directions but the opposition goal. It was meant to be therefore a drag of a game, punctuated by the odd Shaqiri shot from distance and Swedish chance finalized with a shot gone horribly wrong, both teams looking very happy with a 0-0 that would keep them in the world cup 30 minutes more. Unless an accident happens, of course. And the accident did happen, a very weak, down the middle, on the keeper shot being deviated in his own goal by the unfortunate Akanji. For the remaining 30 minutes the Swiss did try and pull one back, but only halfheartedly. Or maybe this is all they can, sad as that might be for a team in the knock-out stages of the world cup. Either way, there was more drama in the last minute of the injury time than in the preceding 30, when Sweden almost got a penalty, cancelled correctly by VAR, as the contact was outside the box. I say 'contact', though what it was was a gentle push by Lang on substitute Thelin, another sample of Sunday League football, where the defender is unable to make a tackle and the forward would rather fall down than attempt a shot from an ideal position with just the keeper in front of him. Lang got a red card and everybody acted as if it matters. Sweden is in the quarter-finals and everyone wonders how.

They both reached for the ball
They will face England, another team that proved me wrong, as I thought they'd be taken out by Colombia. And to be fair, it wasn't far off. And yet, England did seem to be the more positive team, the one who, as the old cliche goes, wanted it more. Despite the absence of Jamie Rodriguez Colombia still poses the greater attacking threat and is the more organised team, but it doesn't feel like they trusted themselves to really go for it. They were the louder team, for sure, but fell prey to the unspectacular efficiency of Harry Kane. Clear penalty, and the Spurs forward moves to 6 goals for the tournament with his spot-kick that reverberated in all the pubs across the land. It was almost enough for England, almost being the key word, as Yerry Mina proved once again a key man for Colombia, scoring his third of the tournament in injury time. I absolutely loved Mina, one of my favorite players in this World Cup, all his goals coming in at crucial times. So to penalties it went, and the aforementioned noise in the pubs was reduced to a quiet murmur of resignation, specially after Henderson's miss, which I welcomed. It was Southgate and his boys who proved the more composed in the end though, with unlikely hero Jordan Pickford managing to keep out the last two penalties and become a folk hero in the process. I dismissed England's chances so far, but credit goes where credit is due - Southgate has done an excellent job with the material at his disposal.

Got this last quarter-final completely wrong, though I did pretty well on the other three. So here's how I think the last 8 will pan out: France-Uruguay is the tie with the most promise, and I think France will edge it, while Brazil will easily sail past Belgium. Croatia-Russia is where home advantage of any kind might prove decisive, but I'd still trust the Croatian team to go through, they're far superior to Russians. England will struggle, but I think they'll pass Sweden, only to lose to a Croatia that will reach a World Cup final for the first time. There, they'll face the winner, which will be decided from a mouth-watering, breath-taking semifinal: France-Brazil. I'm tipping France to win it as they have a more measured approach to their game, while matching the Brazilian in quality, both individual and as a team. Not particularly my favorites, but deserving champions.

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