The final beacons any two of the four

Maswood Alam Khan | Published: July 08, 2018 21:16:14 | Updated: July 08, 2018 22:05:24


Two of Croatian heroes -- goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and playmaker Ivan Rakitic look ecstatic after a pulsating 4-3 penalty shootout win over hosts Russia to set up a World Cup semi-final against England. Rakitic scored the winner from the spot and Subasic made one save in the shootout. -Reuters photo

At 1:10 A.M., May 09, 1945, Russian people heard over radio that Nazi Germany had officially surrendered to the Soviet Union. Moscow blasted with festivals with searchlights switched on, cannon-fires exploded and the night sky illuminated by fireworks. Citizens danced madly and kissed anybody nearby in the Red Square to share their enormous victory and relief.

A couple of minutes to Sunday midnight, July 01, 2018, when Russian people watched Spain, a World Cup winners, defeated by their country, people all over Russia became delirious and the ensuing partying and celebrations were in no measure less joyous than the galas held on that fateful night of Soviet victory in the Second World War. The whole nation was in thrall. The world was happy seeing the host nation of this year's World Cup exultant.

Russians started knitting a cocoon of dream to climb the ladder up to join at least the semifinalists' club. On Saturday night, July 07, their dream was almost translated into reality as Russia were leading against Croatia by 0-1, the dream was still alive when they were at par by 1-1 and the dream was not extinguished yet when the curtain of the penalty shootout drama was rolled up at Fisht Stadium, a magnificent 40,000-capacity stadium which was named after Mount Fisht in 2014. Russian dream, however, fizzled out as Croatia advanced 3-4 on the penalty shootout in a heart-breaking quarter-final defeat as Croatia bounced back from a late extra-time equaliser.

When Denis Cheryshev, the Russian winger, scored the wonderful first goal in 31st minute it was a Russian dream coming true. Dreamers hobbled in their reverie when Croatian defender Domagoj Vida got a superb equalizer in101st minute. Heartthrobs of spectators were clearly heard inside the stadium, tantalizing thrills were visible all around the world, inducing blood pressure of millions of watchers to go up. And when Mario Fernandes, the Russian attacker, scored and drew the game back to 2-2, deep into extra time, forcing yet another penalty shootout, the world seemed to believe that fortune were perhaps smiling on Russia.

Football gurus did not expect Russia, the 70th best team in the world on the eve of World Cup, to advance further. The mood of hope in favour of Russia, however, changed to that of excitement when they had dispatched Saudi Arabia and Egypt in its first two games. That Russia could, however, advance to the last night's stage was to many a remarkable achievement.

Croatia and Russia have played the game quite fairly, no histrionics. It was a heartbreak for Russia, and yet they could leave the stadium with their heads held high. They prospered against everyone's expectation, they proved many naysayers wrong. Russia have done a great job in hosting this tournament. Bravo. They have contributed to one of the best World Cups. Lucky Croatia!! Though Russia showed more will to win, Croatia displayed more determination to bounce back from cliffhanging. A bit of luck favoured both of them!!

Luka Modric of Croatia, the Man of the Match, enchanted us by his excellent performance, making four key passes, providing one assist while being at the heart of every decent move his side put together. Congratulations to Croatia!

Lucky England, the founder of football, in the other match of the night! And efficient too. We didn't enjoy their game against Colombia for reasons perhaps beyond their control.

The English have presented us their two headed goals and two unimaginable saves, producing a competent 2-0 victory over Sweden. Their beauty: they are the second-youngest team at the tournament, with an average age of 26.

English or any of the four quarterfinalists are now in striking distance of the Final.

Harry Maguire's headed goal in 30th minute and the second headed goal by Dele Alli in the 59th convinced us that the semifinals would not be as boring as we suspected with the departure of most of the Titans of football.

Fortunate are England as their road to the final now appears to be smooth, thanks at first to an easy group stage and now because of a series of fortuitous results in other games. If previous results had favoured previous champions England could have faced Brazil or Germany in the quarterfinals and Spain in the next round.

Sweden were too defensive. They set up deeply and densely inside their own half, allowing England space to move outside on the wings. The Swedes probed forward infrequently, and in straight lines. Had they been a bit more offensive and changed their approach a little bit the result could have been different. The hero was, undeniably, the English goalkeeper who saved two definite goals and thus saved his nation.

The first goal was spectacular, when Ashley Young floated a corner kick from the left side, spinning the ball toward the penalty spot, where Harry Maguire rose over the back of Sweden's Emil Forsberg and thumped a header into the left corner of the goal. They struck again, when a looping cross from Jesse Lingard, and a lapse in defence from Sweden, released Dele Alli alone on the left post to deposit another header into the net.

England have done their job neatly and superbly. One more victory, and the country will play for its first World Cup trophy since 1966.

We must congratulate England, Croatia, Belgium and France for making the semis, no matter Brazil, Argentina and Germany are not there. From what we have seen they are the four best and fairest teams. No histrionics, no faking injury, no hassling with the referee. Well done!

maswood@hotmail.com

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