Quarter-finals Day Two
Sweden 0-2 England
The Three Lions looked to push very high with a fluid and wide 3-1-4-2 attacking formation, hoping to keep the Swedes on their heels with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard making attacking runs through the middle, Kieren Trippier and Ashley Young driving forward on the flanks, cultured striker Harry Kane hoping to tuck in in the box without having to come back to get the ball, and Raheem Sterling using his speed to bring the ball into the box and draw defenders away from Kane, Alli and Lingard.
Sweden has lost only once in fifteen competitive international fixtures against England, so they come into this one with a confident yet cautious 4-4-2, looking to close down the middle with Albin Ekdal protecting the back four. Their attack is centered around talisman Emil Forsberg coming in from the left, but they can bring the attack forward with Viktor Claesson tucking in underneath on the right. Ola Toivonen is the reliable scorer up top so far, because his strike partner Marcus Berg has been erratic.
Sweden chose not to press early, instead sitting back and waiting for England to bring the game to them. Sweden looked to play off their front men, bringing in Forsberg and Toivonen once the ball was in the box. England wanted to probe the center of the pitch with Alli, Lingard and Sterling, but that was right at Sweden’s defensive strength. Sweden prides itself on defending set pieces, but they got outplayed on a corner in the 30th minute when Forsberg was mismatched defending Harry Maguire, who put it in the back of the net. Sweden were 6’s and 7’s at the back when Sterling made his solo runs into the box.
In the second half, England were going to close down the middle and keep using their speed advantage with Sterling through the middle, keeping Sweden confused in the back. Sweden was at their best when they got their outside attacking midfielders inside. England’s possession kept Sweden pinned in their own third, and England’s patient buildup finally paid off with a 58th minute header by Alli. Knowing that Sweden like to intercept the ball in the middle of the field and quickly counter, England spread the field and moved the ball around. English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was massive in this game, picking off a few surefire Swedish attempts. This was a clinical dismantling by England, who totally handcuffed the Swedes at every turn, picking them off in the midfield, and shutting down the Swedish attack before it had any chance to build up.
Russia 2-2 Croatia (3-4 pen)
The Russians went with a standard and compact 4-2-3-1 that played like a 5-3-2 when they dropped defensive midfielder Roman Zobnin back in defense and is hard to break down, with Denis Cheryshev running in from the left flank expected to quickly find Artem Dzyuba up top so Aleksandr Samedov from the right and attacking midfielder Aleksandr Golovin would trail in and help in the box.
The best midfield in the tournament belonged to Croatia, also using standard 4-2-3-1 formation that was a little more fluid than Russia’s. The key to the Croatian attack was Luka Modric, spreading the field, sitting deep, hitting long balls, finding pockets of space, coordinating the attack with Ivan Perisic coming from the left and Ante Rebic coming in from the right, both frequently switching sides; Mario Mandzukic is the lone player up top holding up play waiting for Modric, Rebic and box-to-box midfielder Ivan Rakitic to trail in.
A tight game early, both teams looking to find their rhythm and tempo. A lot of movement both on and off the ball by Croatia, but Russia stayed disciplined and compact. The game took a predictable route: Croatia possessed looking for spaces and angles, Russia intercepted the ball down low, then went route one over-the-top to Dzyuba. Croatia got way too comfortable in the back and played way too high a line; they feared nothing coming from Russia offensively. Fatal error: Cheryshev with a long range shot as the ball fell to his feet in the 32nd minute.
Finally a good attacking buildup from Croatia going through the center as Andrej Kramaric made a late run into the box and got on the end of a Mandzukic pass for a header in the 39th minute, just like they drew it up. Croatia’s midfield got more active and involved in attack in the second half, chasing down balls and finding space in the middle third. Croatian possession kept Russia pinned in their own end. Even when Russia got the ball and sent a long diagonal ball over the top into the attacking end, there were Croatian defenders surrounding Dzyuba to take it away.
Obviously not unlike with Spain, Russia’s game plan was to survive the onslaught. The longer this game went on the deeper and deeper Russia dropped back. But unlike the Spanish, Croatia was eventually able to use all that possession in extra time to find space in front for a redirect from center back Domagoj Vida in the 100th minute. I found it funny that after going down, Russia finally found its possession gene. Russia clearly are not that good of a futbol team, but they just won’t go away; a set piece header by winger Mario Fernandez in the 115th minute ties things up. It should have never gotten to penalties, but I’m glad the team that should have won did.