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5 shots from World Cup days 24: The bizarre can happen
European fans failed to put on a show, England and Croatia prepare for a cliffhanger, Picky did his job, being big and blond didn't save Sweden and Russia bowed out after staying two weeks longer than expected on day 24 of the 2018 World Cup.
- Staying home
The Europeans really haven’t taken to this lark. The review, having seen the Argentina fans mass in their millions to the point that it was more the San Pedrosburg Stadium for the final Group D game against Nigeria and the Colombians turn the Spartak Stadium into downtown Bogota for the last 16 against England, there was an - in comparison – insipid cluster of Sweden and England supporters in Samara for the quarter-final. Odd. Because a place in history was in the offing. Sweden hadn’t reached the last four since 1994. And for England the squinting was even more intense. Their wound had been putrescent since 1990. Maybe the fans were saving up their money for a splurge in Moscow.
- Moscow holiday week
Time to be confident. England beat Sweden 2-0 to reach the semi-final. Croatia will be the opponents at the Luzhniki Stadium on 11 July, day 28. The winner of the match will return to the same venue for the World Cup final on 15 July while the losers take a trip to St Petersburg for the third place play-off against either France or Belgium on day 31. It is at this moment that truly confident fans will book for the whole week in Moscow. The review was heartened to see a few fans in Germany shirts wandering around the precincts of the Cosmos Arena in Samara. When the draw was made, Samara was where the Group F winners would play their last eight match. And since Germany, the defending champions and world number one team were in Group F … well, you would, wouldn’t you? As it turned out, Sweden topped that group and Germany went out before the second phase for the first time since 1938. Woe and misery for the Germans! And for the mean-minded rest of the planet? Schadenfreude. At least it’s a German word.
- Pick of the bunch
Young Jordan Pickford came to England’s rescue three times during the quarter-final against Sweden. He stopped a goalbound header when it was 1-0 and made crucial stops when it was 2-0. Had either of the efforts gone in, it might have prompted a Sweden revival. Picky – as his teammates call him – was awarded the man-of-the-match bauble for his heroics as well as plaudits from his manager Gareth Southgate. Picky said he was just doing his job and showcasing what he did in training. “Nothing fazes me,” he added. “I just want to be my best. I embrace the moment and I play in the moment.” The 24-year-old has played in all of England’s games in the tournament and he will get another moment on day 27 in a World Cup semi-final against Croatia. Not really what was expected.
- Tell it like it is
The review has been rather fond of the Sweden team since the Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio had a rant at them for playing football which did not build from the back. Spain espoused that and look where that got them this tournament. Osorio made his disparaging comments after Sweden’s unfootball had swept past his team 3-0 in the final Group F game. Janne Andersson, the Sweden coach, has been upfront about what his team will do. Nothing mysterious about us, he says. We’re big and blond and we’ll run all day long. And there was something refreshing about Andersson’s approach to the 2-0 defeat in the quarter-final. “It’s a game of football and sometimes the other team is better than you. There was nothing wrong with us. England played better and deserved to win.” Kudos to your manner, Janne.
- Russia gone
And so farewell, the hosts. Russia were at their own party a good two weeks longer than expected. As the lowest-ranked team at the fest, it was thought they would depart after the group stages. But they emerged from that and pulled off a huge shock to beat Spain on penalties in the last 16 at a mesmerised Luzhniki Stadium on day 18. Stanislas Cherchesov and his boys took Croatia to the brink before losing on penalties in Sochi. Their journey has proved that the bizarre can happen. Just ask any England fan.