FIFA World Cup 2018: Knockout Round Day Four

Sweden 1-0 Switzerland

The Swedes came into this game looking to shut down the middle and get forward on the wings in a 4-2-2-2 formation, looking for Emil Forsberg to create things floating in from the left, Victor Claesson crossing the ball on the right, and Ola Toivonen the target man in the box getting the ball onto Marcus Berg. Switzerland limped into this game with a few players out through injury, employing a flexible 4-2-3-1 that played like a 4-5-1 in attack, playing the ball through sideline-to-sideline midfielder Granit Xhaka, with his primary attacking help coming from Xherdan Shaqiri on the right, Steven Zuber new to the starting XI trying to make runs forward on the left, and Josip Drmic the fourth starting target man in the box this tournament.

The Swiss were committed to play out of the back, find good starting positions and combinations, working the ball around, then finding a playing running into the box to cross it to. The Swiss are usually good at playing out of pressure, but they got careless in the back a few times and gave up good chances to the Swedes. Sweden were a little more direct, but not really finding an offensive rhythm. Sweden played a very deep back-line, which is why Switzerland was able to find space to pass the ball into. No surprise that the Swiss dominated the possession. The Swedes did a lot of work closing down space in the center, and their wingers were pressing the Swiss flankers. Both teams got shots off in the box, just not on goal, with some badly missed finishes that should have gone in.

Forsberg finally got on the end of a ball in front of the box in the 66th minute. The Swiss were getting really frustrated with the officiating, so they were putting bodies on a lot of Swedish players. Drmic was practically useless up front, not getting the ball in the box and not really a part of the Swiss offensive buildup. Sweden was very disciplined in the back after scoring, closing down the box to the Swiss and not giving them good looks at goal. It’s not always pretty, but there is a cohesion and a single-mindedness to Sweden that squeezes every ounce of performance out of those canary-yellow jerseys.

Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 pk)

Without their talisman James Rodriguez, Colombia employed a Christmas tree 4-3-2-1 formation, with Carlos Sanchez providing cover for the backline, Jefferson Lerma and Wilmar Barrios bringing the ball forward on the flanks, Radamel Falcao responsible for the chances in the box, and Juan Cuadrado and Juan Quintero trailing into the box to help. England took a chance with an adventuresome yet center-intensive 3-1-4-2, with Jordan Henderson protecting the backline, sideline-to-sideline technical midfielders Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard varying their runs all over the pitch, speedy Raheem Sterling breaking into the box to link up with Harry Kane waiting on the ball to take his chances on goal. A three-man backline meant that Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier were going to be busy both attacking and defending on the flanks.

Both these teams live and die on set pieces. A lot of youth and speed for the Three Lions, with Colombia trying to close down space through the center to discourage runs by Sterling, Alli and Lingard. Early on, Kane wasn’t finding space in the box to operate, so he was coming back deep to get the ball. England was doing a good job of closing down the forward thrust of Colombia on the flanks, pressing Cuadrado and Quintero up high and limiting their ability to get the ball forward. Falcao was not getting a lot of options in the box, as England’s three-man backline was good at cutting off his help.

For whatever reason, Colombia decided to get physical and chippy, challenging England everywhere on the pitch, grabbing and bullying (you would have thought the English would be prone to this). It cost them in the 57th minute when Carlos Sanchez dragged Kane down in the box and Kane converted the penalty. Of course, England’s score meant that Colombia started to get players into the attack, which predictably meant that there was now space for Alli, Lingard and especially Sterling to use their speed to exploit. England replaces Alli with Eric Dyer to provide more cover centrally in the back.

Colombia tried to get the ball into the box, but the Three Lions did a good job of closing down the final third, closing down channels to both run and pass into. Three minutes into extra time, England were uncharacteristically 6’s and 7’s on a Colombian corner and center back Yerry Mina scored his third goal of the tournament on the header. That took the wind out of England’s sails and gave Columbia extra energy in their game, especially on the left side. It was as if England just couldn’t get over having victory taken from the jaws of defeat in extra time. England were the better team throughout. It would have been disappointing had they not made it through on penalties.

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