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World Cup: England defeats Sweden, Croatia defeats Russia

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The incredible weight of expectation didn’t hurt England as it continues to climb towards the World Cup final, reported News.com.au (Australia).

Fans erupted and screamed out the now iconic “it’s coming home” catchphrase as England swept aside Sweden 2-0 to move into the semi-finals.

It will face Croatia after it defeated Russia in a penalty shootout.

Russia’s fairytale is over, suffering the ultimate heartbreak as it went down in a penalty shootout against Croatia.

The two sides couldn’t be split after 120 minutes as the match ended in a 2-2 draw and it was Croatia who held its nerve best.

Russian Fyodor Smolov had his opening spot kick saved then Mario Fernandes — who scored a last-gasp equaliser deep into extra time to keep the host nation alive for that little bit longer — dragged his penalty wide.

Croatia’s Mateo Kovacic gave the Russians a sniff when his effort was saved but four of his teammates made no mistake from the spot as Ivan Rakitic sealed the win when he buried the ball into the back of the net.

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov lamented that luck had turned against the hosts. “Luck was against us,” Cherchesov said. “My guys feel like conscript soldiers whose term of service was over just when they were preparing to go into battle.

“They still want to fight that war.”

Cherchesov said he knew “from the first second that I put this team together how far we could go”.

“People not only started to believe in us, but the whole nation loves us now,” he said.

Russia showed tremendous fighting spirit to come back from the brink after originally taking the lead courtesy of a stunning Denis Cheryshev goal in the first half. After a dour opening 30 minutes where neither side had any genuine chances on target the Russian striker brought the match to life with a piece of individual brilliance.

He won the ball 10m into opposition territory and combined with Artem Dzyuba, who gave him the ball back after a neat one-two. Cheryshev took a touch then unleashed an unstoppable curling effort into the top corner to send Russia up 1-0.

“Oh, my word. That is quite something,” the commentator said. “The boy is a star and Russia rises to him.

“Did that really happen?”

But the joy didn’t last long. Less than five minutes later Ivan Perisic flicked the ball on to Mario Mandzukic, who found space on the left flank and crossed into the box. Andrej Kramaric was waiting and his header was on the money to square things up at 1-1.

Croatia came desperately close to taking the lead on the hour mark when, after a goalmouth scramble following an aerial ball from Kramaric, the ball fell at the feet of Ivan Perisic. With bodies everywhere he squeezed a shot out that looked destined to hit the net but instead it hit the inside of the back post, then rebounded agonisingly along the goal-line before going out for a corner.

Russia’s best moment of the second half came after 71 minutes when Fernandes leapt up for a header only for his effort to sail over the crossbar.

Disaster struck for Croatia when goalkeeper Danijel Subasic went down with a hamstring injury with a few minutes remaining in regular time. Complicating the matter was the fact Croatia had already made all three of its allotted substitutions, so no new shot-stopper could come on to replace Subasic before full-time.

Fortunately Subasic was able to stay on the pitch and he resumed between the posts when the match went into extra time following the 1-1 scoreline after 90 minutes.

Domagoj Vida sunk Russian hearts when he put Croatia ahead with a powerful header from a corner to make it 2-1 in the first stanza of added time, forcing Russia to go on the offensive.

The hosts pushed forward as the home fans roared in support. Subasic was forced to make two impressive saves and it looked like Russia would be denied at every turn.

But with five minutes to play Fernandes got on the end of a free kick just outside the box to head home an equaliser and send the entire country into raptures.

Unfortunately, the comeback didn’t have a happy ending as tears of jubilation were replaced by tears of joy following the penalty shootout.

After ending up on the softer side of the draw, the pressure mounted on England to make a deep run in the World Cup.

Those expectations haven’t deterred the young squad, which continued to rise to the occasion and it did it against one of the stingiest defensive teams left in the tournament.

Through its opening four games Sweden had only conceded two goals, but it couldn’t contain England who ran away with the contest 2-0 to book its place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1990 and only the third time in history.

The contest got off to a dour start with both sides prepared to feel out the game and not genuinely prepared to make any serious pushes towards goal.

After 30 minutes the deadlock was broken when England turned to its proven method throughout the World Cup — set pieces.

A corner was put in the perfect position and Harry Maguire rose high to rocket his header into the back of the net.

“It has an extraordinary percentage of goals from these restarts, the dead-ball situations. And it might just take England all the way,” commentator Martin Tyler said.

Maguire’s goal was his first ever at international level and couldn’t have come at a better time for England.

England then had an attempt to double its lead right before the halftime break, but some brilliant defensive work kept it at bay.

As the second half got underway and with its back against the wall, Sweden came out firing and almost levelled proceedings.

A cross into the box found the head of Marcus Berg who saw his attempt saved in stunning fashion by English keeper Jordan Pickford.

Unfortunately all that early attempt seemed to do was fuel the fire for England who proceeded to go on the offensive and it didn’t take long before it hit the scoreboard again.

A brilliant chip from Raheem Sterling found Dele Alli behind the defence with Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen no chance of stopping the header.

English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford secured his first clean sheet of the tournament and was the clear standout for England in the pivotal encounter.

Every time Sweden surged towards goal and hit the target, Pickford emerged and swatted the attempts away.

Fans were quick to call for the 24-year-old to be knighted for his heroic efforts in keeping England’s Cup hopes alive.

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