The quarter-finals line-up for the 2018 World Cup is now complete following the conclusion of the last Round of 16 matches yesterday. Here are five things we learned.
Big guns stunned
The 2018 World Cup will be remembered for big performances from smaller teams, and the surprise early exits of some of the pre-tournament favourites. While former champions Germany could not get past the group stage, their predecessors Spain were shocked by hosts Russia in a penalty shoot-out loss on Sunday. Argentina fell to more illustrious rivals – France, while Portugal could not overcome an impressive Uruguay side.
This turn of events also means that this is likely to be the last time we see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – the two best players of their generation, and perhaps of all time – representing their nations at the World Cup.
Hosts dream on
In qualifying for the quarters, albeit on home soil, Russia have surpassed all expectations that were placed on them at the beginning of the tournament. Their achievements cannot be attributed to pure luck, as the hosts have illustrated an impressive mix of swashbuckling attacking football and dogged, determined performances at various stages of the competition.
They now face Croatia, who have arguably been the most impressive side at the finals so far, on Saturday. If they get past them and into the semi-finals, dreams of blissful glory will no longer be too far-fetched.
Penalties continue to dominate
When Harry Kane was bundled over in the Colombian penalty-area yesterday night, American referee Mark Geiger awarded the 28th penalty of the World Cup so far. This extended the new record of most penalties taken at a single World Cup tournament, a reality that has been augmented by the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology.
England and Colombia also needed a penalty shoot-out to determine who would advance, following a 1-1 draw after extra time. This was already the third match in the knockouts so far to be determined in this way.
England overcome penalty history
England fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst when their side’s match against Colombia went to penalties. The Three Lions had after all, lost three out of three shoot-outs in previous World Cup appearances. The script seemed destined to chart a familiar path when Jordan Henderson missed the third spot-kick for England, but Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca failed to convert their own, which gave Kieran Trippier and Eric Dier the chance to make history for Gareth Southgate’s side.
Sweden make history
England were not the only European nation making history, as Sweden beat Switzerland to reach their first World Cup quarter-final since 1958. The whirlwind journey for the Swedes is made even sweeter by just how much they have defied expectations. Janne Andersson’s side were not even favoured to qualify for the World Cup when they met Italy in the final qualifying match in November last year.
They went on to top a group that contained Germany and Mexico, before they dispatched Switzerland yesterday. England will do well not to underestimate them when they clash on Saturday.