19 July 2018 01:42 AM

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SUL MIRZA | 9 JULY, 2018

World Cup 2018: The Battle at Spartak Stadium

World Cup 2018: The Battle at Spartak Stadium


In under one week, the 2018 World Cup will have concluded. There are only four matches left, including the 3rd place play-off and thus far, it has been spectacular.

Delivering matches of the highest calibre, goals from the top drawer and drama from the beginning – nothing short of a dream for every football fan. But the party is not over yet, there is still plenty to come in the last few games.

For the fifth time in World Cup history, the semi-final stage is an all European affair, the last time being 2006. Euro 2016 finalists, France will take on neighbours Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium whilst England face Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. Both intriguing matches which are impossible to call.

Didier Deschamps men, the second team to beat three South American teams in a World Cup, have matured through the tournament. 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe’s blistering performance saw Les Bleus sweep Argentina aside before proceeding to walk through Uruguay, swaggering to the semi-final.

The contest with the Belgians is a far different prospect, the winner of which will be favourites in the final. Belgium’s “Golden Generation”, the only semi-finalists to have won all their World Cup 2018 matches within 90 minutes, came from 2-0 to beat Japan at the death in a scintillating quarter-final.

The frightening trio of, ex-Chelsea teammates, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard went on to run riot against Brazil and see off the darlings of the tournament in a 2-1 victory. A tactical masterclass by Roberto Martinez who is supported by, second assistant coach, France and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry.

Hazard is enjoying the form of his life, completing ten out of ten dribbles against Brazil! According to sports data specialists Opta, ”the most dribbles attempted by a player with a 100% success rate in a World Cup match since 1966”.

In contrast, Croatia has endured a gruelling route to the semi-final. Scraping through their knock-out matches by penalty shoot-out, unable to win in 120 minutes against Denmark and host nation Russia. The experience of long matches and shoot-outs may benefit the Croats. However, the toll of extra time twice in a row will only be known in the lactic acid minutes of the next match.

"The Battle at Spartak Stadium" saw England win their first World Cup penalty shoot-out ever, dispatching Columbia in a hard-fought match. An unchanged line-up started against Sweden for the quarter-final. England’s weary legs managed to ease past in a 2-0 win. Man of the Match, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, delivered another stellar performance, keeping a clean sheet with a bunch of world-class saves. He has been a revelation.

Gareth Southgate may look to freshen up the first-eleven against Croatia who comes into the match boosted by their dramatic victories. For the ageing Croat stars, such as midfield-duo Luca Modrić and Ivan Rakitić, this may be their last chance to win a World Cup. Harry Kane will look to extend his lead as the tournament-leading goal scorer and help the Three Lions to their first World Cup Final in fifty-two years.

Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar, the superstars expected to shine the brightest, all burnt out far too quick and withered away like dying embers. Yet the excitement has by no means diminished, the World Cup is still alight. The slow-burning fireballs, whose flames have grown with every game, now own the day. In less than a week, we will know which fire climbed the highest. Mbappe, De Bruyne, Modric or Kane. And we cannot wait.

 

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