Day 17 Summary: Russia stun stale Spain & Denmark pay the penalty
Russia 1-1 Spain (Russia won 4-3 on penalties)
The hosts march on! Russia’s World Cup dream is very much alive after stunning former champions Spain at the Luzhniki Stadium. It started as expected with Spain breaking the deadlock after just 11 minutes when Sergei Ingnashevic turned his back on a free kick whilst trying to hold Sergio Ramos and deflected the ball into his own net. Spain dominated possession but created few opportunities. But with half-time approaching Russia had a spell of possession with Alex Golovin going close and then from a corner Gerard Pique handled to give Russia a penalty which Alan Dyzuba converted. Spain had the ball throughout the second half but played everything in front of a packed Russian defence and offered little penetration.
Hierro introduced the great Iniesta to offer some creativity and he was the closest to breaking through when he hit a volley from the edge of the box forcing Akinfeev into a smart stop, but Spain couldn’t pick their way through and extra time ensued. Spain brought on the dynamic Rodrigo who threatened to open up the Russian defence with a clever turn and blistering pace but Akinfeev again was on hand to deny Spain the winner and it went to penalties. Penalty shoot outs often favour the more technically gifted sides but Russia were near perfect with their spot kicks whilst Koke missed for Spain meaning Iago Aspas had to score to keep Spain in the tournament but that man Akinfeev was there again to save with his legs and Russia were through.
Croatia 1-1 Denmark (Croatia won 3-2 on penalties)
The evening match saw the defensive Denmark take on dynamic Croatia with expectations of a drawn out tactical battle. But the game started with a bang as Denmark fired a long throw into the Croatia box and Mathius Jorgensen slipped in at the back post to tap home after just 1 minute. But Croatia responded almost immediately when Rakitic burst into the Denmark box and as the ball pinged around Mario Mandzukic reacted quickest to slide home: 1-1. Croatia had the majority of possesion through the first half but struggled to get their fluent game going and the game was level at half time.
In the second half Denmark smartly pushed their fullbacks further up the pitch and played a high pressing game that suffocated the Croatian attack with Mandzukic cutting a lonely figure at the point of attack. But Denmark struggled to convert their advantage into chances with Martin Braithwaite going closest with a looping shot from the edge of the box. For all their struggles Croatia thought they’d won it when with 4 minutes to go Modric found Andriej Kramaric with a brilliant throughball and Jorgensen brought down Rebic. The great Modric stepped up but Kasper Schmeichel pulled off a stunning save to keep Danish hopes alive and force penalties.
But the spotkicks started with Christian Eriksen seeing his effort pushed onto the post by Daniejl Subasic. Schmeichel responded in kind with another brilliant save. But it was to be Subasic’s day as he saved 2 more to send Croatia through to face Russia. Within hours the great Andres Iniesta retired from international duty.
Day 18 Preview
Brazil vs Mexico
Brazil haven’t lost to none European opposition at the World Cup since 1990 and never to a Central American side, meanwhile Mexico haven’t won a World Cup knockout game since 1986- it’s fair to say history favours Brazil. But don’t let Mexico’s capitulation against Swede fool you- Mexico will be ready for Brazil. Brazil seemed to be finding their form against Serbia but Neymar still hasn’t found his best and calls are growing for Roberto Firmino to start. This will be a tough game for Brazil and may end up in extra time but I expect them to win.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Mexico (AET)
Japan vs Belgium
Japan controversially made it into the last 16 due to having picked up fewer bookings than Senegal. But Japan made 6 changes to their side that lost to Poland and will now likely recall fresh players. It’s a good job as Belgium rested 9 of their starters against England. Japan are greater than the sum of their parts but Belgium should have too much quality particularly if Romelu Lukaku is back to full fitness.
Prediction: Japan 1-3 Belgium
Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)