Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1401, (12 - 18 July 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1401, (12 - 18 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

It’s almost over

This year’s one-month FIFA World Cup competition comes to an end in Moscow this Sunday, reports Abeer Anwar



France vs Belgium
France vs Belgium

On Tuesday, France became the first team to qualify to the final of the 21st edition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They beat Belgium 1-0 in the first semi-final which took place at the Saint Petersburg Stadium. Their opponent, was yet to be decided, as England and Croatia battled it out on Wednesday’s second semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium for the last berth of the final match, after Al-Ahram Weekly had already gone to press.

The losers from both semi-finals will play-off for the third and fourth places on Saturday at the Saint Petersburg Stadium. The final, however, will take place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

One of the most exciting matches of the quarter-final round in the 2018 World Cup was in Sochi on Saturday night between hosts Russia and Croatia. The Balkan nation overcame the hard working, surprising Russians 4-3 on penalties after their dramatic clash ended 2-2 after extra time. Fans held their breath all through a 120-minute match that will long live in memory in a fully packed Fisht Stadium.

The star of the match was the Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic who saved one penalty kick from Fedor Smolov despite nursing a leg injury in the latter stages of the contest, in addition to Ivan Rakitic who scored his side’s winning penalty in a shoot-out for a second straight match. Teammate Andrej Kramaric was also an important factor in his team’s success.

In his post-match comments, Kramaric, 27, said, “Honestly, I’m not even aware of what we’ve achieved. I am proud to be part of this team that will remain enrolled as one of the biggest in Croatian sports. But we do not want to stop now, we have to make it a step further. Now, we have to get together and continue this way, for our great fans.

“The match against Russia is yet another victory of our character. We have nerves of steel,” Kramaric said. “We showed how calm and self-confident we are. Perhaps the match was not the most beautiful, but it will be remembered. The goal I scored was dedicated to my family and friends. I will certainly remember it. It is a goal in the World Cup.”

After defeating the tournament hosts, the Croatians are meeting England in the last four in Moscow. It is a Three Lions side that Kramaric rates highly. “Before the World Cup, I chose England as one of the favourites,” he said.

“They are young and fast. We will fight to make the final.”

Croatia reached the semi-finals for the first time since the country’s World Cup debut at France 1998 which is why the players and their fans celebrated non-stop.   

England, The Three Lions, advanced to their first FIFA World Cup semi-final since Italy 1990 with a 2-0 win over Sweden by two goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.

After half an hour, where both teams were on their tip toes waiting for a goal, Maguire was able to spring above his marker and latch on to the end of a floated Ashley Young corner to give the Three Lions the lead.

Dele doubled the lead when he timed his run at the back post and headed in a cross delivered by Jesse Lingard.

It was Jordan Pickford, England’s novice goalkeeper, who saved the day with three one-handed saves in the second half to push his team to the semis after a 28- year absence.  

With effort and persistence, Belgium defeated the favourites Brazil 2-1 in Kazan on Friday. It was not an easy match for both sides as the Brazilians wanted to banish the past when they were defeated 7-1 in the 2014 edition of the World Cup on their home turf in the semi-finals. But the Belgians worked hard enough all through the game and became one of the World Cup favourites for the first time in their history. It was a beautiful football contest. Belgium had a golden chance as Brazil’s Fernandinho scored an own goal — the 11th of this tournament — on the 13th minute to the astonishment of the five-time world champions. The Belgians were there in every attack and left no opportunity to score unturned, creating wide open spaces to show off their talents. Kevin De Bruyne added the second goal for the Belgians to seal the victory. Renato Augusto’s 76th minute strike was too little, too late for Brazil.

“We had a game plan and we executed it to perfection,” Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku told the press afterwards. “I told my team-mates just before the game not to be scared because we had the game to beat Brazil, so long as we thought as a team,” added the striker.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said, “The World Cup is no respecter of talent; it only respects teams.” Added the smiling Belgium boss. “My players are not just talented; they’re also very resourceful on a psychological and human level. And those are the qualities you need if you’re going to pull off the ultimate achievement at the World Cup: beating Brazil.”

When they finally emerged from celebrating, the Red Devils invited their fans to do the same, joining them in a victory chant. Their joy was understandable: Friday’s victory was only the Belgians’ second against a side ranked in the top three of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking since 2002, the other one having come against the French.

When they arrived in Russia, Martinez’s warriors were determined to follow their bus slogan “Red Devils on a mission”. That bus has taken them to five different stadiums where they have recorded five straight wins.

At Nizhny Novgorod Stadium came the big one between Uruguay and France during Friday’s quarter-final. France were up to the challenge in both attack and defense, winning 2-0, helped by a terrible error by Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. La Celeste failed to penetrate the French thanks to the efforts of both Raphael Varane and Hugo Lloris.

“At this level, it’s all about concentration, really,” explained goalkeeper Lloris. “Today we were really strong, mentally speaking. We knew that we needed to score first, and we did. The second goal was just one of those things. It’s bad luck for Muslera, a goalkeeper that I really like — one of the greatest in Uruguay’s history. The lesson we’ll take from this is that every match is a challenge, and the further we go in the tournament, the more results come down to minor details.”

“We knew that set pieces were one of their main strengths, but we showed that it’s one of ours too,” noted Varane, who went on to reveal the secret behind his goal. “I told Antoine [Griezmann] to do a little feint and then stick the ball right on the penalty spot. It was something we’d worked on in training.”

France, still unbeaten at Russia 2018, marched on to the semi-finals, much to the delight of Didier Deschamps who became the longest-serving France coach (in terms of matches) in history after the round-of-16 match against Argentina, and who extended his total number of games in charge to 81 on Friday.

“I don’t necessarily have convictions, but I’ve always been certain about some things,” Deschamps said. “I’ve got a high-quality squad. I’m really so proud of them, because they’re the ones who made this happen. They’ve merited this victory.”

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