De Futebol Belgium Shutouts England 2-0 to Win Third Place at 2018 World Cup!

Belgium was too strong for England. Belgium started out quick with a masterful goal by Thomas Meunier in the 4th minute to take the one nil lead.

This sent the English side on their heels.

Three Lions attacked in the second half. Belgium swatted away attack after attack until the match was salted away on a brilliant counter attack goal from Eden Hazard in the 82nd minute winning in a cake walk 2-0.

England put up a fight however Belgium was a superior side.

It was a good tournament for Three Lions. However, England needs to shore up the midfield and work on putting the rock into the back of the net.

England had several great chances to even this puppy up however the guys missed by that much. This is what separates winning and losing.

In the end, Belgium was just too good.

The Guardians Dominic Fifield:” There was a collective puffing of cheeks offered up by England’s players at the final whistle, victims of Belgium’s best World Cup showing, but that sense of disappointment will pass quickly enough. Gareth Southgate’s young and talented squad did themselves proud over this tournament. No other English team has ever bettered the fourth place they have claimed, unexpectedly and joyously, on foreign soil and their achievements are to be celebrated.

The real frustration had been endured in the Luzhniki Stadium in midweek. This afterthought in St Petersburg, a game played amid Mexican waves and those familiar chants of “Rossiya”, should not tint anything that came before. Southgate will actually have been encouraged by the upbeat tempo his side whipped up after the interval, when weary legs and tired minds might have reduced the whole contest to a plod, and threatened for a while to force parity. Chances were created, opportunities were missed. Then Eden Hazard, stirred into action and fed by the irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne, danced down-field and settled the occasion.

Some will no doubt argue that England have still to prosper against top quality opposition in competitive action, if, indeed, that is what this was. Belgium have beaten them twice in this tournament and will be received by the crowds in Brussels on Sunday rejoicing in their best ever performance at the World Cup. Their celebrations at the end, from bench to pitch, reflected a sense of achievement. But, as Southgate had pointed out in the build-up, England never expected to be here. “I’m not sure anyone in our country thought we’d be playing seven matches,” he had offered.

They ended up competing well here, despite a slack opening which left them chasing the game almost from the outset. England’s second half showing demonstrated all the pride and commitment for which Southgate had called. They were the dominant team after the interval, even if Belgium retained a considerable threat on the break, as demonstrated eight minutes from time by Hazard’s smart finish inside Jordan Pickford’s post. Yet headers at set-plays would drift wide, and Toby Alderweireld would hook Eric Dier’s clipped finish from the line. The stubborn refusal to wilt, despite having shipping a goal with the game in its infancy, was still admirable and said so much about the spirit of this collective.

The introduction of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford at half-time had clearly made an impact, but to see the group straining to respond despite weary legs and tired minds was still impressive. There was actually plenty to admire: from Fabian Delph’s versatility and fine challenge to thwart Thomas Meunier; to Kieran Trippier’s delivery which so stretched even this experienced opposing back-line at times; the substitutes’ zest and a far more impressive showing from Ruben Loftus-Cheek; and Eric Dier’s increased influence in midfield. It had been the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, one of five changes from the semi-final, who exchanged passes with Rashford midway through the second half to advance on Thibaut Courtois at an angle. His shot was clipped smartly over the goalkeeper, only for Alderweireld to slide in and scramble the effort from under the crossbar.

England’s players massed in front of their supporters after the final whistle, serenaded to the heavens for their efforts, while Belgium prepared to mount the stage to claim their bronze medals. Theirs had been the bite, their ambitions made clear by the reality the wing-backs had combined to force them ahead while the game was still settling into its rhythm. That reward had stemmed from a Courtois clearance, nodded down by Nacer Chadli for Romelu Lukaku to accept and exploit the gaps in a rejigged England midfield. His pass inside Trippier for the galloping Chadli to collect was still superbly weighted, with the West Bromwich Albion player – who would depart before the break with hamstring trouble – squaring across the six-yard box. There appeared Meunier, sprinting in ahead of a startled Danny Rose, to convert beyond Pickford.

The Everton goalkeeper would do well to paw away De Bruyne’s deflected effort, and thrillingly from Meunier’s late volley after a counter-attack crammed with back-heels and precise passing which left England gasping in the vapour trail. Twice the Manchester City playmaker split England’s back-line with subtle and perfectly weighted passes only for Lukaku’s heavy touch to kibosh the chance. The striker, four times a scorer in Russia, was substituted on the hour-mark and strode off straight down the tunnel, and was even absent in the post-match huddle out on the pitch.

His chances of claiming the golden boot had died here, with that honour surely now Harry Kane’s to celebrate, unless Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann runs riot in the final. The England captain only really had one sight of goal here, after the excellent John Stones clipped over a fine pass for Raheem Sterling, who squared neatly across the penalty area. Kane has looked as fatigued as anyone of late, and his standing duly leg gave way as he struck his shot. The effort veered wide of Courtois’s post.

Those misses left England watching the post-game ceremony from the fringes, but they have not been peripheral to this tournament. And it has been a while since the nation has had that to celebrate. Southgate and his players can look back with pride.

De Futebol England shocked the so-called Pundits with a semifinal Berth in The World Cup

No one expected England to make to the World Cup semifinals. The so-called expects told us that Three Lions were at least three years away from making a dent in the World Cup. Wrong Bucko. The guys played with heart and guile.

The Guardians Barney Rona:” Leave the flags out. Have another glass. Take another look, if you can, at those moments from Kaliningrad to Moscow when this capable England team played above itself and turned a drowsy, toxic summer back home into something else.

Let’s not have any anguish this time. England’s four and a half weeks at the World Cup deserves a little better, even after a 2-1 defeat by Croatia in Moscow that was decided deep into extra time.

And no tears even at the memory of that goalscoring start when for a few moments the planes flew backward through the sky, the cats barked, the police horses meowed and England did seem to be heading towards their first World Cup final on foreign soil.

Gareth Southgate’s team played to their limits at the Luzhniki Stadium, as they had against Colombia and against Tunisia all those millions of years ago in the midge-mists of Volgograd.

In the end England found a superior opponent here, a team with deeper gears and with a mania to run right to the end. Croatia came out like warriors in the second half, the craft and winning habits of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic starting to intrude like a firm hand on the elbow as the game ticked down.

By the start of extra time it was a case of counting who could still run. England looked done, cooked. Harry Kane limped gamely. Jordan Henderson kept on chugging about like a cavalry captain on a dying pony. Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli found weird depths of energy, running on fumes.

The Luzhniki had been full to capacity at kick-off, the light above the lip of the roof fading to powder blue. The crowd was swollen by 10,000 England fans who made it here by lay-overs and nights spent on airport benches, and who pegged out the bed-sheet bivouac at one end, the familiar pageantry of painted flags, a tour of Albion from Exeter to Hartlepool.

With five minutes gone the evening seemed to be heading their way. Alli was fouled on the edge of the box. Kieran Trippier has been getting closer all tournament. As the ball dipped and curled and bulged the net the air seemed to rush out through the roof, then rush right back in as England’s fans basked and bumped and rolled over each other in puppyish joy.

For 20 minutes this felt like England’s game. On the touchline Gareth Southgate looked calm, striding about in his waistcoat, stroking his whiskery chin and resembling once again a very clever cartoon badger who drives an old-fashioned car and plays the violin.

Raheem Sterling ran hard but lacked edge. Harry Kane missed a chance he would normally gorge himself on like a starving man. And at half-time and 1-0 up England really did seem to have one foot jammed in the door for a return to this stadium on Sunday.

Except they didn’t start again after the break. Croatia were suddenly driving the game, pressing England back on the flanks, finding holes that had previously been concealed. The equaliser came from the right, Ivan Perisic sticking a leg up above Kyle Walker’s dipped head to deflect the ball in.

On we went into a bruising, draining extra time. The goal felt like it was coming, even before Mario Mandzukic peeled off the back of John Stones and finished smartly.

And so: exit music. England’s World Cup summer is done. How will we remember those four weeks spent watching Harry and Dele and Harry from the dust of Samara to the semi-detached oddity of Kaliningrad?

Above all, this has been a dreamy, all-consuming piece of escapism. In tough times back home football has felt like a warm embrace, like a rush of chemical pleasure, like the best night out you’ve had in ages.

There will, of course, be that urge to give all this some wider meaning. It has been an odd feature of England’s progress at this tournament that so many have latched on to the idea of a moral dimension to victory, the notion that England have won matches because their methods are righteous, their hearts pure, and not, say, because Mateus Uribe didn’t hit his penalty kick two inches lower at the Spartak Stadium.

Sport is a chimera, it drags stories along in its wake. Champions are often blackguards. Losers are often nice. Sport and its storylines are just a decoration, a picture on the wall.

But it can still provide something uplifting. It is hard not to feel part of the enthusiasm for this team comes from a feeling of relief. A lot of young English people have been told for the last few years that times are hard, that their lives are set one way and that things were always, always better in the past.

Watching this England team – and yes, it is of course just a football team – has seemed to provide a different kind of script. A young, unheralded bunch of players have gone further than those before who were more obviously talented, more golden, more authentic, finding ways to succeed through teamwork and energy and a refusal to be cowed.

It is hopeful to see this, to look at Alli or Harry Maguire or Jordan Pickford and say, well, people told them that they probably couldn’t do it either.

Football isn’t real life. It is a separate world packed with hammy emotions and big fat wet notes of drama, always straining to mean a great deal more than it does. But it can provide a little inspiration along the way, another kind of story. England in a semi-final, with a likable team led by the great Gareth, has been exactly this. No tears this time. There is St Petersburg on Saturday to follow. But they are, finally, coming home.

De Futebol Croatia Wins in Extra Time a 2-1 win over England

England scored first off, a sublime free kick from Kieran Trippier in the 5th minute. However, Croatia came back to score two goals to break England’s hearts to win 2-1 in extra time to advance to the finals against France.

Ivan Perisic leveled this puppy in the 68th minute with a toe poke off a ball that found the back of the net to make it one all.

The heart break came in the 109th minute.  Mario Mandzukic flat out beat the keeper and the entire England defense for the pulsating 2-1 win.

The match became a little chippie in the end however Croatia proved they were slightly superior to England.

Three Lions gave it all they had.

No one expected England nor Croatia to make it the semifinals. Sure, the young lions lost in the semifinals however this World Cup is a success for the guys.

No one expect England to make it this far.

Harry Kane stepped up to the plate and he is now on the way to becoming a world class player.

England will take on Belgium in the third-place match on Saturday.

The Daily Mail:” One lapse. That is all it takes in this rarest of atmospheres. Kieran Trippier lost his header to Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic ran off John Stones, and England were out of the World Cup.

It took Croatia 109 minutes of football to take the lead against England, but they edged it in the end. They were the better team in the second-half, they hit the post, Jordan Pickford made one magnificent save.

But let’s get one thing straight. England were not lucky to be here. They were not fortunate beneficiaries of a soft draw, or undeserving contenders for the 2018 World Cup. They were, in many ways, the best team here. Not in football terms, or technical terms. No-one is claiming them the match for France, or even Croatia, the finalists. But as a team, a band of brothers, a group of players amounting to more than the sum of their parts, England were outstanding.

There is no shame here, no failure. England did as well as could possibly be expected given their youth, inexperience and the absence of a playmaker in the class of Luka Modric.

Gareth Southgate, the manager, has done an exceptional job and the national team should be his to mould for another four years at least. He deserves that, and so do they, his loyal lieutenants.

Anyone who thinks England just got lucky, doesn’t know football. This game was the proof of it. They battled Croatia to a standstill, both teams exhausted, all energy and emotion spent.

They could not have given more, either of them and that a single goal separated them is fitting. Better that than to lose of penalties and see that hoodoo return. That is another curse that has been lifted at this World Cup.

Credit Croatia, too. This was a spirited performance after two knockout games that have reached penalties. When England took the lead after five minutes, and dominated the opening 30, it would have been easy to be overwhelmed.

Instead, they found a way back into the game, through Modric and man of the match Perisic, outstanding technical talents that point the way forward for Southgate and his men. But they know that, having come so close. They know there is a missing link, and the next step is finding it. Easier said than done.

Croatia were always going to be the strongest test England had faced in this competition to here, and so it proved. If England had the upper hand for the bulk of the first-half, the second – in its entirety – belonged to Croatia. This was the team England – the country, more than the team – feared.

Controlling the ball in midfield through Luka Modric, with Ivan Perisic quite brilliant coming in from the left. England looked ragged through that second 45 minutes, leggy, edgy, panicked.

In a seven minute spell, Croatia took them apart, physically and technically. Poor Kyle Walker was struck a devastating blow in the crotch from a shot by Perisic, collapsed, and when the ball did not go out of play, got up to clear the recycled cross. Then he fell again. It was a heroic moment. Whether it played a part in what happened next is hard to say.

Just three minutes later Sime Vrsaljko hit a superb deep cross from the right, and Perisic drifted off Kieran Tripper and attacked the ball. Walker went for a diving headed clearance but Perisic nipped in first and met it with a volleyed flick past Jordan Pickford.

A high boot? Possibly, but Walker was stooping, so it was a judgement call. Referee Cuneyt Cakir went with the scorer. To be fair we would have moaned like hell had he disallowed one of ours like that.

The pressure was now unrelenting. Perisic capitalised on the growing uncertainty in England’s back line and hit the far post with a shot, Ante Rebic putting a tame rebound into the arms of Pickford. This was as rattled as England had looked all tournament. Pickford came for a high ball, didn’t get it, and Perisic shot over, the goal unguarded.

And yet there were moments when England’s strengths surfaced once more. Substitute Marcus Rashford won a free-kick, which Trippier curled in only for Harry Kane to steer a free header wide. The glorious fifth minute seemed an age away as the game moved into extra-time.

It is a very select group, those that have scored for England direct from free-kicks. Even more exclusive, the little club that have done it at a World Cup. It’s David Beckham, actually. Just him. One against Colombia, most recently against Ecuador in 2006. Still if he does ever decide to form an England World Cup Free-Kick Scorers Society at least he’ll have company at their annual ball. He’ll have Kieran Trippier after Wednesday night.

Just five minutes gone, first real attack of the game. What a start it was for Trippier and England. There can be little doubt now that we are watching the best deliverer of a dead ball this country has had since Beckham. We’ve already seen his first-time crosses, his vicious perfectly flighted corners, but he has never scored a free-kick for England. No time like the present then. No time like a World Cup semi-final.

It began when Dele Alli was fouled by Luka Modric just inside the penalty area D. England had been on red alert for Modric and what he could do, so it was ironic that Croatia were suffering with the pace and movement of England’s forward midfield instead. A trio of England players stood around the ball deliberating, but the suspicion always was that it would be Trippier’s responsibility at this range.

He did not disappoint. The whole Croatia wall jumped but somehow the Tottenham man got it up, over and down to leave Danijel Subasic grasping at thin air in Croatia’s goal. The ball passed over Dejan Lovren’s head en route. Not small, Lovren. It was a quite exquisite free-kick. Beckham would have been proud of it. So, for that matter, would Cristiano Ronaldo – or Roberto Carlos.

n the bench, Gareth Southgate pumped his fists and then returned to default concentration mode. Five minutes is desperately early to take the lead in a World Cup semi-final. Better than going behind after five, obviously. But it’s an age to defend that lead – and, as against Tunisia when this campaign began, England squandered several chances to take the pressure off.

In the 14th minute, a Trippier corner was met by Harry Maguire – when are they not? – and he steered his header low towards the far post. A touch from a lurker and England would have been two ahead but no-one was there. Maybe England are so used to scoring headers direct from these dead balls, they aren’t following in.

Then the chance that amazed and frustrated in equal measure. Frustrated because it was a genuinely good chance missed by England; amazed because it was Harry Kane who fluffed it. The pass from Jesse Lingard was perfect and suddenly Kane was clear. Free of Croatia’s defence only Subasic to beat.

He tried to slot it past him and the whole stadium expected to see the ball come to rest in the goal, but no. Subasic saved and Kane scrambled desperately to be first to the rebound, now at an acute angle. He tried to whip it in, but the ball hit the near post, came out, struck Subasic and spun up in the air across goal and out on the other side. The second chance was tough. But the first? In Kane’s world that was a sitter.

Six minutes later, England could have scored again. Alli, enjoying his best game of the tournament, the provider, finding Lingard whose attempt to pass it into the net from the edge of the area was ambitious and travelled the wrong side of the post.

But this was still a huge performance from England, with Lovren struggling to contain Raheem Sterling in particular. It was clearly the plan to use his pace in running races against Croatia’s back line, and it worked. With Alli and Lingard skipping around in his orbit, England looked dangerous.

Of course, when Modric got on the ball so did Croatia, and the 10 minutes before half-time he controlled. It didn’t add up to much, though – an Ante Rebic shot comfortably saved by Jordan Pickford, and a few important interceptions by Ashley Young and John Stones. In the 19th minute, a crossfield pass by Modric picked out Ivan Perisic, whose low shot went just wide, but England’s chances were better, and clearer. Not that this stopped the jangling nerves, mind you. But it is hard to imagine what would, at this late stage.

De Futebol France 1-0 over Belgium!

France defeated Belgium 1-0 to advance to the World Cup Finals.

The Daily Mail:” A game as fabulous as this should not really have been settled by something so prosaic as a header from a corner.

There is nothing wrong with corners. They have been at the heart of England’s World Cup campaign, after all. But this wonderful, intricate, skilful match deserved something more memorable to decorate it.

Instead, the whole thing came down to one of football’s oldest facets, a battle of strength and will between two big, athletic men at the near post.

This one was won by Samuel Umtiti over Marouane Fellaini and, as the Barcelona defender’s header crashed into the goal early in the second half, Belgium’s carefully constructed World Cup campaign collapsed.

So, it is Didier Deschamps’ France who await the winner of England v Croatia in Sunday’s final, but whoever they face, Les Bleus will start as favourites. Against a beguiling and dextrous Belgium side, France began slowly here but grew inexorably and purposefully into the game. By the end, they were worthy winners.

France did not start this World Cup with elan but they have got steadily better, advancing through the tough half of the draw by beating Argentina, Uruguay and now Belgium.

They are three teams of substance and three victories from which France will take confidence. Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and the mesmerising Kylian Mbappe were magnificent last night.

We should feel sympathy for Roberto Martinez and Belgium, who have brought much to this World Cup. At times in the first half they looked as though they would unlock France and, had they scored first, they may have walked away with this semi-final.

But for all their possession and neat patterns, they could not find a way to hurt France. Hugo Lloris made only two significant saves all night, one from a first-half shot by Tottenham club-mate Toby Alderweireld, the other from Axel Witsel’s drive.

Martinez may ask himself why he stuck with the bespoke system he used to beat Brazil rather than reverting to his usual back three.

In the centre of the field, Mousa Dembele was run ragged by Pogba and Kante.

He was the weak link in this Belgium XI and France exploited his flat-footedness and lack of pace on the turn.

But this was a game of fine margins. We saw the best two teams in the World Cup and one of them had to lose. The only surprise was that we did not see more goals.

For Belgium, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard ran directly with familiar poise and wit, while the French countered with bursts of their own. Belgium started fast but could not maintain it.

Pogba and Kante began breaking up possession with a surgeon’s precision and looked for the lightning feet of Mbappe or the heft of Olivier Giroud.

Early on, it was Belgium’s game. Hazard and De Bruyne found space between the blue lines and their play just lacked a smart run from Romelu Lukaku or a kindly bounce to bring them tangible joy.

Hazard shot across goal with his left foot in the 16th minute, while a curling effort from the Chelsea player looked destined for the top corner before it struck defender Raphael Varane on the back and went for a corner.

It seemed only a matter of time before Lloris got busy in the France goal and sure enough he was called upon midway through the half.

A corner from the right dropped to Alderweireld 14 yards out and the defender’s shot on the turn was pushed round his right-hand post by Lloris at full stretch.

It was a nice height for Lloris and he got two gloves on it, but it was still a good save.

So the Belgian threat was clear but so was their vulnerability. And when France won a corner courtesy of a Giroud deflected shot in the 51st minute, Umtiti lumbered up to earn his place in history.

Replays showed his header brushed Fellaini’s curls on its way in. The Manchester United player looked bereft but his pain should be eased by the knowledge he has had a good World Cup.

There had been signs before the goal that the France threat was growing. Thibaut Courtois’s foot had denied Benjamin Pavard late in the first half and Antoine Griezmann had gone close.

Dries Mertens replaced the drowning Dembele and Belgium came again courtesy of a Fellaini header. But France were emboldened by a sense of opportunity and would not let Belgium in.

They defend well, this France team. At the business end of an entertaining World Cup, it remains a fundamental skill. As does the taking of good corner kicks.

De Futebol Croatia wins in a PK Shootout over Russia to advance to The Semifinals of The World Cup

Russia and Croatia engaged in another one of the wild and crazy PK shootouts. Croatia advances to the World Cup semifinals with a thrilling 4-3 PK shootout win over Russia.

England-Croatia will duke it out in one semifinal while France-Belgium will engage in war in the other semifinal match up.

The Daily Mail:” Russia’s emotional and stubborn journey through their own World Cup ended in heartbreak just before midnight on the Black Sea when they lost a penalty shoot-to Croatia at the Fisht Olympic Stadium.

Croatia will now face England in the last four in Moscow on Wednesday night and on this evidence there is nothing particular for Gareth Southgate and his players to fear. Luka Modric and his team-mates will certainly present England with a different test to any they have faced so far in Russia. They will play on the front foot and attempt to take the game to England, something teams like Sweden, Colombia, Panama and Tunisia have not done.

However, Croatia will be tired after this gruelling and emotional night. They have played two lots of 120 minutes in the knockout stages, winning a shoot out against Denmark in the last sixteen, and that may take its toll in three days’ time.

For Russia, this was a tough night. They had come back from the dead with an equaliser from defender Mario Fernandes seven minutes from the end of extra-time to force penalties. But sadly it was the Brazilian-born defender who missed the crucial kick in the shoot-out.

For Croatia, Marcelo Brozovic, Modric, Domagoj Vida and, finally, Ivan Rakitic all scored their kicks with only Mateo Kovacic missing his country’s second effort.

But after Russia had recovered from the shock of Fedor Smolov missing their first kick with a successful strike from Alan Dzagoev, Fernandes dragged his team’s third one horribly wide meaning that subsequent goals from Sergey Ignashevich and Daler Kuziaev were rendered meaningless when Rakitic converted Croatia’s final kick.

Croatia had earlier looked to be on their way through after a header by Vida had been nudged in to the net by substitute and former Manchester City and Tottenham defender Vedran Corluka in the first period of extra time.

But then the Russians were awarded a free-kick for handball on the edge of the penalty area in the 113th minute and when Dzagoev whipped it in Fernandes rose to head it in to the corner. Rarely has a World Cup ever heard a noise like it.

Croatia had dominated the 90 minutes of normal time but had fallen behind when Russian golden boy Denis Cheryshev scored from 25 yards on the half hour It was fantastic strike and his fourth goal of a fairytale tournament.

Zlatko Dalic’s team struck back almost immediately through Andrej Kramaric who headed in a cross from Mario Mandzukic but the closest they came to winning the game in normal time came when the disappointing Ivan Perisic struck the post when he should have scored in the 61st minute.

How much Croatia will stretch England will probably depend on their energy reserves as much as anything.

When their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic went down with cramp in the 88th minute, it started a trend. By the end of the extra period, some of the Croatian players could barely stand. How they managed to get themselves through the shoot out only they will know.

Croatia have also lacked something of a cutting edge in the knockout stages. When they embarrassed Argentina 3-0 in the group phase, they looked as though they would prove themselves to be one of the tournament’s most expansive and dangerous teams.

However that hasn’t really happened. Croatia were not impressive against a modest Denmark team and although they dominated the ball and the territory here in Sochi, much of their football broke down when they reached the edge of the Russian penalty area.

When their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic went down with cramp in the 88th minute, it started a trend. By the end of the extra period, some of the Croatian players could barely stand. How they managed to get themselves through the shoot out only they will know.

Croatia have also lacked something of a cutting edge in the knockout stages. When they embarrassed Argentina 3-0 in the group phase, they looked as though they would prove themselves to be one of the tournament’s most expansive and dangerous teams.

However that hasn’t really happened. Croatia were not impressive against a modest Denmark team and although they dominated the ball and the territory here in Sochi, much of their football broke down when they reached the edge of the Russian penalty area.

Modric remains their most dangerous player by a distance, driving his team relentlessly forward on the back of invention and sheer hard work. His penalty in the shoot-out carried a bit of luck – striking the goalkeeper and the post before finding the back of the net – but it is hard to say he didn’t deserve it.

Beyond that, though, Croatia have looked a little blunt. Perisic – who has interested Manchester United – was poor here as was the Juventus centre forward Mandzukic. He missed a passable early chance and never really recovered. Barcelona’s midfielder Ivan Rakitic, meanwhile, was only fitfully impressive.

So the English can sleep soundly at night between now and Wednesday. Not only have the avoided a politically sensitive semi-final with Russia, they face a team that should concern them but not necessarily worry them. We would all have taken that back on June 14.

De Futebol England Wins! Up Next the Semifinals of The World Cup!

England is on to the semifinals of the World Cup. Three Lions shutout Sweden 2-0. Goals by Harry Maguire header in the 30th minute and the stake in the heart of Sweden by Dele Alli noodled home the winner in the 58th minute pushed England to the semifinals of the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1990.

The Daily Mail:”It didn’t have anything like the drama of the Colombian shoot-out, nor was it quite the spectacle when an England team beat Cameroon at this stage in 1990. And it was nowhere near as controversial as their progression from the quarter finals against Argentina in 1966,

But make no mistake. In the Samara Arena, situated on the banks of the River Volga in a far-flung corner of the sprawling Russian Motherland, an England team made history.

Few gave them any serious chance when they left for Russia last month. Now they will contest a World Cup semi final on Wednesday night in Moscow. It will be only the third time they have done so since England deigned to appear at this tournament in 1950.

A young team which seemed devoid of real ego or heavyweight stars a month ago will now forever go down as one of the best.

Gareth Southgate, a seemingly unassuming man yet deceptively determined, who was parachuted into this job amidst chaos twenty-two months ago, will join Sir Bobby Robson as the only Englishman to guide a team to this stage of the World Cup in foreign territory.

What is truly enticing is the realistic prospect that he might go one better than Sir Bobby, a man who would visit him when he was struggling to find his feet at Middlesbrough manager. He has come a long way since then, Southgate, as he bestrides the world stage now.

His team have travelled far too, scaling previously unimagined heights. Harry Kane, of course, has been the breaththough act though this wasn’t so much his day.

But Harry Maguire is a secret no more. The world is awake to his talents, which go far beyond his headed goal. And Jordan Pickford has grown, figuratively if not literally in this tournament. He may always be 6’1” but his riposte to Thibaut Courtois questions about his height have been perfectly timed.

Sweden were extraordinarily limited and initially unambitious and yet it still took three wonderful saves from Pickford to get England over the line. And that the game was devoid of tension by the end, virtually a stroll, was a credit to the goalkeeper.

Of course, all should share credit. Though Sweden were poor, they are a team that has disposed of Holland and Italy in qualifying and who got rid of Germany from the group stages.

England managers have been photoshopped into turnips by Swedes before now so the fact that this team made light work of this fixture was a testament to their mental strength.

That said, England started tentatively, like they were suffering from a collective brain freeze form the magnitude of the occasion and the failure of an opponent to engage. The early passes from Ashley Young and Dele Alli betrayed the nerves which seemed to be suffocating England.

There was no high press, nor panache. At times the game resembled a pre-season Championship friendly, with the Brazilians presumably bemused that one of these teams would be contesting a semi final and they wouldn’t.

It took 19 minutes for England to find their feet with Keiran Trippier playing nicely out from the back and finding Raheem Sterling. Suddenly Sterling was accelerating away, an injection of energy into a soporific occasion. He beat his man and then went past Sebastian Larsson and, with a shooting chance opening up, ran into Harry Kane and ceded the shot to him, the England captain shooting wide from the edge of the box.

It was an least a sign of life. Ashley Young started beating Emil Krafth down the left and on 23 minutes a move starting with Jordan Pickford found its way via Young and Kane to Sterling again, whose striker brought hopeful shouts for a handball against Emil Forsberg.

Referee Bjorn Kuipers rightfully ignored that but it was the first real sign of England’s ability to play with fluidity and pace from the back. Until then, Sterling apart, no-one had moved with anything like the urgency required to unsettle Sweden.

That said, it took a familiar route for England finally to break Swedish resistance. Their first corner kick award on 32 minutes saw Young tee it up and the usual suspects of Harry Maguire, John Stones, Jordan Henderson and Kane amassed at the back of the box.

The only variation in England’s routines was that Dele and Sterling joined them initially. As Young struck the ball, they all scattered and it was enough to confuse Sweden because, in the melee, Maguire was lost, He spun away and his eyes never left the ball. Poor Forsberg was left trying to out-jump him but it was vain task. Maguire rose, connected with his head directed the ball firmly home with a magnificent header.

It didn’t quite bring the release for which England yearned but there was a better finish to the half with Sterling twice breaking free.

On the first occasion, he was offside but when Henderson lifted the ball through on 45 minutes, he sprinted free and took a great touch down. Only the alert reactions of Robin Olsen in goal stopped him skipping round the keeper. By the time Sterling then had to turn to shoot, the familiar figure of Andreas Granqvist was there to block.

Still, these were hopeful signs.

Nevertheless it was Sweden who presented the first sign of danger in the second half. Ludwig Augustinsson swung in an excellent cross on 47 minutes and Marcus Berg rose above Young and directed his header goalwards. Only the excellence of Pickford leaping to his left prevented an equaliser and a Swedish revival.

It was an apposite warning. But also wholly out of character for the game up to that point. England were establishing a foothold. Young’s free kick on 52 minutes found Maguire at the back post – the default England set piece – and his header across was met with spectacular if imperfectly-executed bicycle kick by Sterling.

But there was a patience to England’s play and a degree more craft. So when Trippier had the chance to swing another cross in on 58 minutes he instead opted for a more subtle cut back to Lingard.


He, in turn, dinked the ball over the Swedish defence and there was that run from Dele Alli that Southgate has been so keen to unleash. No Swede had picked him up so his was a fairly simple task to head home. Half the team celebrated with Dele and, fittingly, half with Lingard whose cross was so precise.

Sweden had been so limited and unadventurous that it seemed as though the game might have been won in that moment.

Yet within minutes of the re-start, Sweden were breaking down the left and when Berg touched the ball back to Viktor Claesson a goal seemed inevitable, He struck it well enough but Pickford produced another outstanding save, down to his left to parry away.

Sweden, their World Cup slipping away, had sprung into life When Claesson burst down the left on 72 minutes and crossed for Berg, the centre forward took a touch and struck a rising shot which Pickford again met superbly, touching it over.

It was save that would break Sweden, never again would they truly threaten.

Their race was run. England’s, thrillingly and unimaginably, is far from done.

De Futebol Belgium dominates Brasil 2-1! Belgium and France hook up in the Semifinals

Brasil crashed and burned out of the World Cup. Belgium took it to Brasil winning 2-1 to advance to the semifinals where they will duke it out with France.

The Daily Mail:” It was a picture of devastation at the end: Neymar down on his haunches and Fernandinho flat on his back, staring into the black night sky after their nation’s third quarter final loss in four World Cups.

What Brazil discovered last night is that all the old assurances about football supremacy have gone. Belgium, a nation of 11 million people, have developed the technical and tactical capacity to beat Brazil, a nation of 207 million.

They out-thought and out-played them for 75 minutes of quite stunning counter-attacking football from which Tite’s side could not find a way back, despite two gilt-edged chances in a devastating finish of their own.

There will be an understandable sense of South American injustice today. As the Belgians tired in the last 15 minutes, Brazil seemed justified in their demands for a penalty after Jesus nutmegged Vertonghen and seemed to be clattered by Kompany. VAR ruled that the ball had already run out of play, though it was in play at the moment of Kompany’s initial contact.

But Belgium did enough. Their golden generation, whose ascent to the higher plateau has been long awaited, delivered at last. And on a night which enhances Roberto Martinez’s hugely, their tactics were smarter, surprising Brazil for a first half which saw the game put out of their reach.

Martinez switched Romelu Lukaku to the right of the attacking line and created space to deploy de Bruyne as a withdrawn striker, driving forward between the midfield and defensive lines. Though the usual back three also became a four as soon as they fell out of possession, Belgium took the bold risk of keeping two men up.

‘I think that when you play Brazil, you have to get a tactical advantage,’ Martinez said last night. ‘It would be too easy to hope that you bring your game and win the football game. We had to be brave, tactically.’

Brazil contributed to their own fate, too. The suspension of Casemiro – the granite-like presence in front of the Brazilian defence – had always seemed beforehand to create a chink of light for the Belgians but no-one imagined quite how much.

Defensively, they were fragile. The pace of de Bruyne, with Lukaku and, gradually, Hazard, blew a hole through heart of their side.

There was early good fortune for Belgium. Nacer Chadli’s inswinging corner glanced off the top of Vincent Kompany’s head and was diverted in off the Manchester City midfielder’s shoulder.

But it was as they looked to draw level that Brazil looked vulnerable. They left space behind and Belgium had them precisely where they wanted. Lukaku’s contribution had been erratic for the first half hour but gained possession in front of his own penalty area, stormed beyond Fernandinho and drove a ball out right to De Bruyne.

Marcelo allowed him the Manchester City player a criminal amount of time to stop, assess and and take aim, which he did despatched the ball into the bottom left hand corner.

‘I think we switched things up, tactically speaking,’ de Bruyne reflected. ‘Brazil didn’t know what they had to do.’ Marouane Fellaini added steel in a monumental display at the back of the Belgium midfeild and Jan Vertonghen contributed to Belgium’s fierce defensive resolve.

For Brazil, there was no way through. Neymar was a marginal presence. Gabriel Jesus skewed a headed chance he was presented with. Coutinho was reduced to taking aim from distance.

Tite went all out for salvation and to turn back the weight of history. Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino was sent into a 4-2-4 formation and the side did begin find a way back.

After the penalty appeal, Jesus made way for Douglas Costa on the hour and he was dangerous. Thibaut Courtois’ leap to his right to save was part of a monumental display from him.

For pure, individual attacking talent, Belgium continued to deliver what generations have come to expect of Brazil. In the blink of an eye, they cleared two thirds of the field and almost scored again. Chadli dispossessed Fernandino on the Brazil right and found De Bruyne, who flashed a left foot shot inches wide.

As Brazil drove on and on, looking for a foothold in the game, it became a question of whether the Belgians could on. With 15 minutes to run they were tiring, Fellaini and the defenders were struggling to find the same competitive intent which had put them on the brink of this victory.

The attacking menace all came through Coutinho who was given a fraction of space on 767 minutes which allowed him to deliver the cross for which substitute Renato Augusto leapt, this time leaving Kompany and Alderweireld standing, to direct home a header.

Then, the two chances which will be haunting Brazil today. Augusto ran through on goal, fed by Coutinho, and blasted wide. Coutinho ran in himself, fed by Neymar, and did the same.

In the aftermath, Tite rejected the Europeans – who have all four semi-final berths – possess a pragmatism that the South Americans lack.

‘It’s a team that solid and aggressive,’ he said. ‘Randomness happens and it was harsh on us. There are European teams left – that is normal. I dont think [pragmatism] is a determining factor.’ So Brazil repair home, their wait for a sixth World Cup extended to 20 years at least, wondering what they must do to clinch it again.

De Futebol France to the Semifinals with a 2-0 win over Uruguay!

France advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0-win Uruguay.

Uruguay came into the match minus one of their top players Edinson Cavani due to a calf injury.

France was too strong for Uruguay to compete minus one of their best players. Even with Cavani in the lineup France would have still one.

Belgium defeated Brasil 2-1 to advance to the semifinals against France.

The Daily Mail:” Antoine Griezmann may like to sip yerba mate and hang out grilling meat with his Uruguayan chums but his loyalties were not in question as a goal and an assist fired France into the last four of the World Cup.

Griezmann’s quandary had been one of the pre-match narratives since he once confessed to a deep affection for Uruguay reinforced by his close friendship with Atletico Madrid teammates Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.

Godin is godfather to his daughter but there was no room for sentiment in Nizhny Novgorod.

Griezmann created the opener for Rafael Varane just before half-time and killed the Uruguayan fight when he scored the second from distance with the considerable help of a goalkeeping howler from Fernando Muslera.

France who move onto a semi-final in Saint Petersburg.

Uruguay without the galloping force of Edinson Cavani up front were simply not able to damage France as they had Portugal in the previous round.

Cavani picked up a calf injury after scoring twice against the European champions and, after days of cloak and dagger shenanigans around his fitness, he was named on the bench and was not even fit enough to come on when they were chasing the game.

Without him, and for all their fabled fighting spirit, Uruguay did not seem to have the same belief.

Luis Suarez bustled around, barging into people and trying upset the rhythms of the game but this time the task was too great against a very strong France team and they knew all hope had gone.

Gimenez was in tears on the field even before fourth official had put the board up to show five minutes of stoppage time.

Cristhian Stuani, who came in for Cavani, was lively in the opening stages and Hugo Lloris had to be out alert to punch clear and stop him reaching a knock down from Gimenez following a corner.

France were without Blaise Matuidi, who was suspended. Corentin Tolisso came in to replace him.

It was a tense and fractious opening as it always promised to be and early chances were scarce.

In five previous encounters between the two countries since 2002 there had been only one goal.

Kylian Mbappe showed glimpses of his devastating turn of pace but wasted the first clear opening of the game, mistiming a header on target when unmarked in front of goal and became flustered by Uruguay’s physical attention.

Lloris saved comfortably from Matias Vecino on the turn.

France dominated possession and took the lead, five minutes before half-time when a mistake in defence by Rodrigo Bentancur allowed Tolisso to steal the ball.

Bentancur’s attempted to regain possession quickly but his tackle was clumsy and felled the French midfielder.

Referee Nestor Pitana gave a free-kick and booked the Uruguayan, a yellow card which was met with a pained expression as Bentancur knew this would rule him out of the semi-final if his team were to make it.

Griezmann addressed the free-kick and clipped it into the penalty area with his left foot.

Varane timed his run perfectly, away from Vecino and across the front of Stuani, he rose and glanced a header inside the far post at pace. Muslera had little chance with this one.

Uruguay responded with a positive flurry of intent before the interval and forced Lloris into a brilliant save.

Again from a set-piece, this time delivered by Lucas Torreira and won in the air by Martin Caceres. Lloris sprang to his right and kept the header out with a firm right hand.

Diego Godin crashed in to try and ram the rebound into the roof of the net but blazed the ball over.

Oscar Tabarez did not wait long into the second-half to make two changes but his team were soon two adrift following a dreadful mistake by goalkeeper Muslera.

Griezmann was about 25 yards from goal, out on the left when he took a short pass from Tolisso and was given all the time and space he required to line up a strike on goal.

He struck it sweetly but straight at the goalkeeper and although there may have been a slight wobble in flight Muslera really should have kept it out.

Instead he panicked, pushed his palms at the ball and helped it into the net.

In fairness to Griezmann, he seemed to take little delight in his goal, perhaps slightly embarrassed to see it slither in as well as sorry for his Uruguayan pals.

There was little goodwill extended elsewhere because from this point the niggly nature of the contest worsened, with France happy to run down the clock by milking every bit of late contact.

Nahitan Nandez left an elbow on Tolisso and Lucas Torreira was late on Benjamin Pavard.

A mass skirmish was triggered when Cristian Rodriguez nudged Mbappe and everyone waded in when the teenager overreacted.

Luis Suarez, ineffective without Cavani, was in the thick of it.

Referee Pitana settled the dispute with yellow cards for Mbappe and Rodriguez

De Futebol- A World Cup Shocker! Trip in the way back Machine

With the World Cup right around the corner here is another one of those shockers that happen many times in this competition.

The Guardians Paolo Bandini: “The Azzurri’s controversial second-round defeat in Daejeon was just the start of a barely believable series of events

Francesco Janich felt the first tomato fly past his head. Drunk on cognac and disoriented by the darkness as he stumbled down onto the tarmac at Genoa’s Christopher Columbus airport at around 3.40am on 22 July, 1966, the defender could not immediately identify the fruit but he did know one thing: “It definitely wasn’t fresh”.

Three days earlier, Janich had been part of the Italy side that lost 1-0 to North Korea at Ayresome Park – crashing out of the World Cup in the process. Embarrassed and fearful of a backlash from supporters, administrators did their best to conceal plans for the journey home. As well as pushing the team’s return flight back to the most antisocial hour possible, they refused to disclose which city they would land into.

Somehow, the fans still found out. Hundreds were waiting in Genoa, armed with enough rotten fruit to go around. Players were chased out of the airport and had their team bus pursued for several miles down the road. Many, including Janich, would never play for Italy again.

The defeat left a lasting impression on the national consciousness. Some 36 years later, when Italy were pitted against South Korea at the 2002 World Cup, the press reaction felt visceral. “It is sport’s Battle of Caporetto, Italy’s Vietnam,” wrote Emanuela Audisio in La Repubblica before the game. “Just saying the word ‘Korea’ is a nightmare in itself.”

And it was about to get a whole lot worse.

A tale of two managers

Italy brought an exceptional squad to the 2002 World Cup, co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. Up front, the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri, Francesco Totti and Pippo Inzaghi were all in their prime. So was the centre-back pairing of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta. Captain Paolo Maldini was one of only two players in the squad over the age of 30. Behind them all was Gigi Buffon, the most expensive goalkeeper on the planet.

Most of these players had been involved in Italy’s run to the final of the European Championships two years earlier. Beaten by France on an extra-time “golden goal” after throwing away a 90th minute lead, the Azzurri had nevertheless acquitted themselves well. But their manager, Dino Zoff, caught everyone off guard by resigning soon afterwards, upset by criticisms he had received from the Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.

Zoff was replaced by Giovanni Trapattoni, a man with seven Serie A titles, two Uefa Cups, one European Cup and even a Bundesliga triumph on his resume. But the majority of those successes had been achieved more than a decade previously. Many considered his ultra-defensive tactics to be outdated, even after Italy sailed through World Cup qualifying without a single defeat.

South Korea’s manager also divided opinion. Guus Hiddink had arrived with a big reputation in 2000, but initial results were underwhelming. A 5-0 defeat to France at the 2001 Confederations Cup sparked panic. His team exited that tournament at the group stage, despite winning both of their remaining two fixtures.

The following year’s Gold Cup was even worse. Participating as a guest nation in the Concacaf tournament, South Korea lost three of their five games and drew the other two. They somehow still scraped through to the semi-finals after beating Mexico on penalties, but nobody back home was fooled. Korean newspapers speculated that Hiddink could lose his job before the World Cup even began.

This was not just a question of results. In a country where age and experience had always been privileged, the Dutchman’s strict meritocracy rubbed some people up the wrong way. Hiddink banned his players from sitting together in age groups, as they had done in the past. Youngsters were encouraged to express themselves on and off the pitch, instead of showing deference to their elders.

His private life also raised eyebrows. Hiddink, an unmarried man in his mid-50s, went out on dates with his girlfriend Elizabeth and even brought her with him to America for the Gold Cup – actions that offended a section of South Korea’s socially conservative population. As Jere Longman would write in the New York Times: “In a country where it is considered valorous to pass up the annual vacation for more work, Hiddink seemed to be having too much fun.”

But the manager was not the only one enjoying himself after the World Cup had begun. South Korea opened their tournament with a convincing 2-0 win over Poland, and followed it with a 1-1 draw against the USA. A draw in their final game, against Portugal, would be enough to see South Korea through to the last-16. Hiddink’s team went one better, winning 1-0 and eliminating their opponents from the competition.

Italy’s progress was entirely less serene. After beating Ecuador 2-0 in their first group stage fixture, the Azzurri lost 2-1 to Croatia and drew 1-1 with Mexico, barely scraping through to the knock-out phase. Trapattoni’s tactics were questioned. The manager chopped and changed his lineup, struggling to make the best of his abundant options up front.

But Italian supporters were angrier about the refereeing decisions that had gone against their team. Between their two games against Croatia and Mexico, Italy had four goals disallowed. At least three of those looked like incorrect calls.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Mistrust of authority is commonplace in Italy, so much so that there is even a word to explain it. “Dietrologia” – which translates, roughly, to “behind-ism” – refers to the belief that the official explanation for any set of events is almost invariably the wrong one.

So while Fifa insisted that Italy had been the victim of simple human error, the nation’s supporters assumed otherwise. Instead they speculated that Sepp Blatter was pursuing some kind of vendetta – perhaps as a means of punishing their compatriot Antonio Matarrese, who had clashed with the Swiss before retiring from his post as vice-president at the governing body earlier that year.

Such allegations were, of course, never proved. But a whole tanker full of fuel would be thrown onto the fire by what happened next in Daejeon.

‘Again 1966’

The Azzurri’s reward for finishing as runners-up in Group G was a last-16 clash with South Korea. While the Italian press trembled, the host nation revelled in memories of their neighbours’ 1966 success. North and South Korea might be separate and hostile political entities but when it came to World Cup history, the sense of patriotism was shared.

That much was reflected in the pre-game choreography by Korea’s fans at Daejeon World Cup Stadium. As the two teams emerged onto the pitch before kick-off, supporters held up red and white cards spelling out the words “Again 1966”.

Pak Doo Ik, North Korea’s goalscorer in that famous win over Italy, was watching on TV. He had cheered the South on throughout the 2002 tournament and this day would be no different. A few months later he told the Guardian that Hiddink’s team had “brought pride to our whole nation”.

But could they really overcome this heavily-fancied Italy team? There were reasons to be optimistic – not least the fact that the Azzurri were missing both of their starting centre-backs, with Nesta injured and Cannavaro suspended. Still, not everyone was convinced. The South Korean government went out of their way to temper expectations, issuing official notices before the game in which they called on fans to behave in a dignified manner if the result went against them.

Neither they, nor anyone else, could have imagined quite what would come next. From the moment the game began, it was clear that South Korea intended to go toe-to-toe with their opponents – refusing to be overawed. Lining his team up in a 3-4-3, Hiddink had his attackers press Italy’s defenders relentlessly, while his midfield shuttled the ball out to the flanks at every opportunity, launching continuous assaults.

After just four minutes South Korea won a penalty, when Christian Panucci pulled down Seol Ki-hyeon in the box. But they could not make the most of their opportunity. The crowd groaned as Buffon clawed away Ahn Jung-hwan’s spot-kick.

Instead, Italy took the lead, Vieri powering home a near-post header midway through the first-half. The striker pressed a finger to his lips, shushing the crowd, but neither they nor their team were in any mood to back down. South Korea continued to play their own game, finding more and more space as their opponents retreated into increasingly defensive positions.

Finally, in the 88th minute, the hosts found an equaliser, Seol Ki-hyeon forcing the ball home after Christian Panucci had stumbled while attempting to deal with a cross. The stadium erupted in celebration.

Italy almost responded immediately, Vieri blasting a Tommasi cross wide from point-blank range. But South Korea had chances, too. First Cha Du-ri caught Italy’s defence off guard with an opportunistic overhead kick that flew straight at Buffon. The goalkeeper then had to be at his sharpest to push away a low free-kick from Hwang Sun-hong at the start of sudden-death extra-time.

Two nations steeled themselves for penalties, but none would be required. Instead, in the 117th minute, Lee Young-pyo sent over a cross from South Korea’s left flank, aimed at Ahn in the middle. Despite giving up three inches in height to Maldini, the striker rose above his opponent to head the ball into the corner of Buffon’s net.

It was a moment destined to go down in World Cup lore – Italy eliminated for a second time by a team from Korea. A reported three million people flooded the streets of Seoul in delirious celebration. Even the chairman of North Korea’s football association, Ri Kwang-gun, wrote to his South Korean counterpart offering congratulations.

But there would be no angry mob waiting for Italy’s players when they touched down at Milan’s Malpensa airport, nor any rotten tomatoes to dodge. Instead quite the opposite: a few hundred autograph hunters welcoming them back with applause.

In the eyes of the Italian public, their team had not been beaten at all. Instead they had been robbed by a man named Byron Moreno, a portly referee from Ecuador.

A man named Moreno

“LADRI” screamed the front page of Corriere dello Sport on the morning after the match, that word translating simply to “THIEVES”. Gazzetta dello Sport went with “Vergogna!” – Italian for “Shame!”

Even the more restrained Corriere della Sera was outraged. “Italy has been thrown out of a dirty World Cup where referees and linesmen are used as hitmen,” wrote Giorgio Tosatti inside that paper. “No other team in the entire history of the World Cup has suffered so many injustices.

Nor was this just paper talk. Similar claims were made by Italian government officials, including the cabinet minister Franco Frattini. “The referee was a disgrace, absolutely scandalous,” he said. “I have never seen a game like it. It seemed as if they just sat around a table and decided to throw us out.”

What had provoked such strident reactions? Moreno’s officiating of the game between Italy and South Korea had certainly been less than ideal, the referee appearing to become exhausted at a certain point and struggling to keep up with the passage of play. But Italy’s greatest grievances revolved around two specific incidents in extra-time.

First came an unjust red card for Francesco Totti, who was received his second yellow after going down under a challenge from Song Chong-gug in the box. Moreno, trailing some way behind the action, deemed the striker to have dived, when in fact there was contact between the two players . It might not have been a penalty – Song did also take the ball – but nor was this an act of simulation.

Moments later, Damiano Tommasi was flagged for offside when clean through on goal. Again, replays showed that this had been a bad decision.

Beyond those two egregious decisions, everything was a little less clear. The Italian edition of Vice magazine revisited the semi-final this month, reviewing Moreno’s performance. Writer Daniele Manusia came to the conclusion that initial reactions to this game had probably been overblown.

“I have to say that I did not find much to reproach in Moreno’s performance,” he wrote. “I have seen many offside calls like the one given against Tommasi (and besides, that depends on the linesman’s flag, not Moreno) while the sending off of Totti seemed like a huge error, but not a premeditated one … Moreno seemed to get things right with the fouls in midfield and in the danger zones, as well as with his yellow cards prior to that second one [for Totti].”

Manusia pointed out that both Totti and Vieri had been guilty at different points of raising their arms into the faces of South Korea players, and that Moreno could have sent either player off if he had truly intended to fix this match. Then again, another referee might also have produced a red card for Choi Jin-cheul’s two-footed challenge on Gianluca Zambrotta, or Kim Tae-young’s elbow on Del Piero.

In this case, even hindsight is not quite 20/20. Fans of both teams will continue to see what they want to see in such incidents, but the conspiracy theorists certainly grew in number after South Korea followed up their Italy win by beating Spain in a similarly contentious quarter-final four days later. The European side had two goals disallowed and wound up losing on penalties.

Tired of railing against these endless injustices, fans resorted to humour. “A boy walks into a sports shop and asks to buy a South Korea shirt,” ran a popular joke in Italy that summer. “‘Sure thing,’ says the salesman behind the counter. ‘Which one do you want, though, the players’ version or the referee?’”

Moreno had no part in that Spain match, and nor was he involved in either of Italy’s games against Croatia or Mexico in the group stage. Nevertheless, he became the scapegoat for a tournament where even Blatter conceded that too many mistakes had been made.

Week by week, Moreno’s legend continued to grow. Hackles were raised by reports that he had enjoyed a post-tournament holiday in America, before flying home to Ecuador and buying a luxury car. He countered by telling Italian journalists he had stayed at his sister’s house in the United States, and asserting that the vehicle in question was nothing more than a Corsa that he bought for $10,000 – less than half of his official Fifa World Cup fee.

Moreno went further, insisting that he had not made a single error during South Korea’s win over Italy, and challenging those who would accuse him of match-fixing to get on and “show some proof”. “Never in my career has anybody ever approached me [about that sort of thing],” he said. “Not in Ecuador, and not anywhere abroad either. I hope that nobody tries it. I could get violent.”

The World Cup had raised Moreno’s profile significantly back home and by the time Italian reporters caught up with him in September 2002, he was running for a position on the city council in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. “A red card for corruption and inefficiency,” ran his cheesy campaign slogan.

But that same month he would find himself at the centre of another football controversy, suspended for 20 games by the Ecuadorian federation over his handling of a league fixture between Liga de Quito and Barcelona Sporting Club. According to reports at the time, he allowed 13 minutes of injury time at the end of the game – during which Quito scored twice, snatching a 4-3 victory.

Sensing their window of opportunity, RAI TV invited Moreno over to Italy for a visit. The state broadcaster had threatened to sue Fifa for loss of earnings in the wake of the defeat to South Korea, suggesting that their nation’s early World Cup exit – caused, in their opinion, by incompetent officiating – had cost them millions in advertising revenue.

But now they settled on a different means of getting even. Instead of going after Fifa, they would instead get Moreno himself to repay the debt by using him to drive ratings for their new comedy variety show, Stupido Hotel. Better yet, they could make fun of him in the process. Over the course of one perfectly surreal evening, Moreno would hang out with scantily clad dancers, engage in a staring contest with José Altafini, and listen to the studio audience bellow out a chorus about shoving him under a train. After which he had a bucket of water tipped over his head.

Moreno would return to Italy on a couple more occasions, each time trading in a little dignity in return for another paycheque. In February 2003, he appeared at the Carnevale di Cento in Ferrara, where the crowd jeered and heckled before pelting him with eggs. Later that year he returned to the same region to serve as the guest referee for the final of a seven-a-side football tournament. As well as eggs, this time, Moreno had a full glass of wine thrown over him.

He chose to stay away after that, gradually drifting out of the public consciousness. Moreno would soon quit refereeing altogether, after returning from his 20-game suspension only to quickly collect another (shorter) ban.

The next time that he made international headlines was under much darker circumstances. In 2010, Moreno was arrested at John F Kennedy airport in New York, after he was found trying to enter the country with several kilogrammes of heroin strapped to his body. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison for drug smuggling.

Released in December 2012, Moreno told reporters that he had been acting out of desperation after building up unsustainable debts covering medical bills for his son. Back in Italy, there was little sympathy. Moreno had been a villain to football fans on the peninsula for more than a decade. They needed no criminal conviction to prove his guilt in their minds.


Moreno’s story was not the only colourful postscript to South Korea’s win over Italy in 2002. Hiddink went on to become something of a national treasure in his adopted nation, afforded honorary citizenship as well as a villa and free flights for life on Korean Air. Gwangju World Cup Stadium, where the host nation defeated Spain in the quarter-finals, was renamed as Guus Hiddink Stadium.

A number of Korea’s domestic players, including Park Ji-sung, used the tournament as a springboard towards successful club careers in Europe. But for the goalscorer Ahn, things worked out rather differently. He had already been playing for Perugia in Serie A, albeit not very successfully – scoring just five goals over the two previous seasons. Suddenly he found himself as persona non grata.

“He will never set foot in Perugia again,” raged the club’s tempestuous owner, Luciano Gaucci. “He only decided to play like a superstar once he was up against Italy. I consider this behaviour to be not only a wound to my national pride, but also an offensive act against a country which opened its doors to him two years ago … I have no intention of paying a salary to one who was the ruin of Italian football.”

Gaucci would go back on those words soon enough. His comments had sparked an international reaction, with accusations of racism and one British MEP going so far as to call for an urgent debate on the issue. Far from cutting the player loose, Perugia decided to take up their option to extend Ahn’s loan from Busan IPark for another year.

Instead it was Ahn who refused to return, but attempts to find another club in Europe proved fruitless. He would eventually sign for Shimizu S-Pulse in Japan’s J-League, embarking from there on a nomadic career that included stops in France, Germany and China.

Meanwhile, Maldini, the man outjumped by Ahn for Korea’s winning goal, quietly retired from international football. One of the greatest defenders of all time, he had achieved untold success at club level but in his international career he knew only heartbreak. Each of Maldini’s previous three trips to the World Cup had ended in penalty shoot-out defeats.

To see him bow out in such circumstances was heartbreaking, but after 126 international caps, and 74 of those as captain, he had still earned the right to walk away with his head held high. And without any rotten tomatoes being aimed at it.

What the Guardian said

By Jon Brodkin at the Daejeon Stadium, 19 June 2002

Italy will be in shock this morning and Perugia supporters will be shaking their heads more than most. Ahn Jung-hwan scored just a solitary Serie A goal for the club last season. Yesterday, with a flick of his head, he brought the country where he earns his wages to its knees and caused one of the great upsets of any World Cup.

The sight of Gianluigi Buffon lying motionless in his net for two minutes after Ahn’s late golden goal encapsulated Italy’s plight. Disbelief and humiliation will be felt by their players.

This was a tournament they could have won. Instead they have suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in their history. Perhaps North Korea’s win over them in 1966 was the last of this magnitude.

With three minutes of normal time remaining it had all looked so simple for Italy. They were leading 1-0 thanks to an early Christian Vieri header, barely looked like conceding a goal and had a quarter-final with Spain in their sights. If anyone knows how to defend a slim lead it is the Italians but this time their luck ran out.

An 88th-minute error by Christian Panucci allowed Seol Ki-hyeon an equaliser and suddenly the momentum was with Korea. Francesco Totti’s extra-time dismissal for a second booking – for an alleged dive – increased the psychological advantage enjoyed by their opponents. The golden goal rule means one mistake or moment of inspiration can decide a match. The gun was pointing at Italy.

An 88th-minute error by Christian Panucci allowed Seol Ki-hyeon an equaliser and suddenly the momentum was with Korea. Francesco Totti’s extra-time dismissal for a second booking – for an alleged dive – increased the psychological advantage enjoyed by their opponents. The golden goal rule means one mistake or moment of inspiration can decide a match. The gun was pointing at Italy.

Giovanni Trapattoni is expected to continue as coach and the feeling among many Italians was that the team was robbed. They pointed to an off side decision against Damiano Tommasi before the midfielder put the ball in the net in extra-time. They all believe Totti was unfairly sent off and it looked too debatable to merit a caution.

Other Italians will feel that the fates are against them in major competitions. They lost the final of Euro 2000 to France on a golden goal and suffered defeat on penalties in the previous three World Cups. The truth is, though, that Trapattoni’s team have only themselves to blame.

A side that relies so heavily on defending a narrow lead always risks being tripped up by the slightest error and Panucci failed to clear a cross to hand an equaliser to a South Korean team that refused to give up. Then Paolo Maldini was beaten in the air by Ahn for the decisive goal. At the other end Italy wasted chances to have secured victory.

Vieri somehow missed from six yards in the 90th minute and Gennaro Gattuso saw a shot tipped over in extra-time. In any event, Italy should not be looking to excuses for failing to beat South Korea, however impressively Guus Hiddink’s team are performing.

Trapattoni’s players diced with death in the group stage, squeezing through thanks to a late equaliser against Mexico and Croatia’s failure to defeat Ecuador. No problem, it was said, Italy tend to start slowly and build. In fact they were only delaying their embarrassment.

The sense of shame in Italy will be especially sharp because these things simply do not happen to the national team at World Cups. There was the North Korea defeat and a loss to Poland in 1974 but the countries that have beaten them in key games since are Holland, France, Argentina, Brazil and France again. When it matters against inferior opponents, Italy invariably know how to do their job.

Another success based on professionalism rather than any great style seemed certain here. After Vieri headed in Totti’s corner, Italy were largely comfortable, Korea seemed intimidated at first and the Italians’ knowhow at getting men behind the ball, closing passing angles and chasing hard in midfield was working.

Italy conceded plenty of possession but scarcely a chance to their opponents in the second half. Moments of skill from Totti livened a workmanlike performance. The midfield is not high on creativity but it hardly wants for endeavour and at the back Maldini and Mark Iuliano looked solid.

Korea had missed a penalty in the fifth minute, with Ahn – later to be the hero – seeing his spot-kick saved after Panucci pushed Seol to the ground. But as the minutes ticked away Hiddink’s players refused to accept that reaching the second round for the first time had been enough.

Hwang Sun-hong’s cross was missed by Iuliano, Panucci failed to clear and Seol scored with a first-time shot. Reprieved by Vieri, Korea polished Italy off. Totti went after tumbling in the area when challenged by Song Chong-gug and either team might have scored before Ahn jumped ahead of Maldini, playing his last game for Italy, to score from Lee Young-pyo’s cross.

This is not an inspiring Italy side but the feeling was that it would be an effective one. In fact it’s not even that. Another of the favourites are gone after an Italian legend was found wanting by a fringe player at Perugia. It has been that sort of World Cup.

De Futebol England Advance on a 4-3 Nail Biting PK Shootout! Sweden shocks Switzerland 1-0!

England and Colombia engaged in one of those knock down drag out brawls. Three Lions advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on a 4-3 PK shootout win.

Sweden pulled the upset city special a 1-0 win over Switzerland.

England-Sweden will duke it out in the quarterfinals.

The Daily Mail:” When it came down to that last one, when England were one penalty kick away from a World Cup quarter-final, we peered, a nation anxious to see who would step forward from the pack.

Jamie Vardy, who takes them for Leicester, was unused. Jesse Lingard had apparently been banging them in during practice. Walking towards the end lousy and noisy with yellow shirts …Eric Dier.

Dier, a defensive midfielder or centre-half, fifth at best in the penalty ranks at his club, Tottenham. Dier, ordinary against Belgium in his only start of the tournament. Dier, who had a pass completion rate of less than 25 per cent in his first 24 minutes on the field here.

Dier? Anchor man penalty taker? Dier? Have we taken leave of our senses? Apparently not. Gareth Southgate, more than any England manager, knows the agony of the shoot-out. That was one of the reasons he had his squad going through the routine, day after day, in training. With hindsight, why did we ever doubt?

If Dier was the man to hold his nerve, there must be reason, some numbers, some profiling to back that up. Now let’s be truthful. It wasn’t the cleanest. A bit scuffed and Ospina got a hand to it. But not enough.

There it was, in the net. There England were: in the quarter-finals. And all down to penalties. Not just the shoot-out, but the one Harry Kane scored that should have put England through in normal time. The penalty that took what seemed like forever.

Southgate is coming off like Yoda at this World Cup. Even when he loses, he wins. And when Dier nailed that winning penalty, he became the only England manager ever to emerge victorious from a shoot-out at a World Cup. Considering his back story, this was redemption.

Three penalty finales, three defeats: that had been England’s story until now. From here, whatever this competition holds for this young side, there will be the belief they can cope. Even if it goes to penalties; especially if it goes to penalties. The Germans went home at the group stage, and England have started winning shoot-outs. From here, pretty much anything can happen.

This is a moment in time; a moment when the cards are falling England’s way. Sweden are a well-organised team that defeated Italy in a play-off, then battled their way out of Germany’s group and through a knock-out game with Switzerland. So respect is due.

Yet, it cannot be forgotten that at the quarter-final stage it was envisaged England might meet one of either Brazil or Germany and would then go home – if they even got that far. A match-up with Sweden for a place in the last four? Come on, an opportunity like this may never open again. At worst, England have a puncher’s chance; at best – well, better not to even go there.

When Jordan Henderson’s third penalty of the shoot-out was saved by Ospina, it looked as if Southgate’s group were about to embark on a familiar path, the nation the same. More torture; more heartbreak; more wry songs making light of pain and hurt, to mask how we really feel.

But this night was different. Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca missed for Colombia; Kieran Trippier scored for England and suddenly victory was a shot away. Yet here’s the bizarre thing. It might not even have been the most nerve-shredding penalty of the night. At least Dier got his over quickly.

Three minutes and 31 seconds. Three minutes and 31 seconds was the time between the foul on Harry Kane in the 54th minute, and the moment he put the ball past Ospina to give England the lead.

That is a lot of time for a young man to think. Not about himself, for in these moments, individual awards such as a World Cup Golden Boot are a trifle. This was time to think about his team-mates, his country, everyone whose kindness and guidance had brought him to this point.

About the nation watching, at home. About kids in school looking up to him. And yes, it’s only a game of football. But for three minutes and 31 seconds it must have felt like the world.

In the time elapsed between referee Mark Geiger pointing to the spot, and Kane converting the penalty that should have brought England victory in normal time, Kane must have tried to disappear into his little bubble of familiarity. Tried but, probably, failed. Mayhem was unfolding around him.

Colombia appeared to regard the award as the start of a symposium, as if the whistle and the pointing gesture were merely the prelude to an opening address by several players. Henderson, normally so cool, was shown a yellow card for flicking his head backwards towards an opponent who was particularly persistent in his attention. He made no contact, but it’s the thought that counts.

Finally, Kane stood over the ball, with only goalkeeper Ospina in his path. Just as it was with Dier: Tottenham versus Arsenal, played out on the world stage. Kane has always loved that fixture. He waited for Ospina to make his move – to the left – and struck it straight down the middle, his sixth goal of the tournament, equalling Gary Lineker’s total for England at Mexico in 1986.

He has now scored in six games straight for his country. The last to do that was Tommy Lawton in 1939. Kane feels a little Lawton-like, a little old school, a bit of a throwback. But Lawton never knew pressure like this for his country. He never did three minutes and 31 seconds, with the nation at a standstill, heart in mouth.

And there was no let-up, no respite from there. One-nil isn’t a lead anyone is happy with going into the final ten minutes of a World Cup knock-out game. Better than trailing, of course. Better than shipping fo ur as England did to Germany at this stage in 2010 – but not good for the nerves.

When Kyle Walker gave the ball away and Colombia broke in the 81st minute, there would have been a collective national scream. Juan Quintero fed Juan Cuadrado on the overlap – one of those Colombians with a score to settle against the English game – but his shot was snatched and flew over.

Changes were made, the tension increased. It felt as if it was happening. The chance of lifetime. Almost too much to bear: and then it was snatched away, as every England fan feared.

Uribe hit a shot from range that Jordan Pickford tipped wide magnificently. A Colombian corner. England could handle those, surely. Up came Ospina, against the judgement of the bench – particularly when Colombia have players the size of Yerry Mina on hand.

He was the target, and he was the man the corner found. He outjumped Harry Maguire and headed the ball down. It reared up and was misjudged by Trippier on the line, his header only helping it on his way. Colombia were level, against the odds. Yet for England it felt painfully familiar. In the first-half of extra time it looked as if there would only be one winner: and it wasn’t the team in red.

Yet justice, over the full expanse of the game, prevailed. Colombia’s Wilmar Barrios was very lucky not to be dismissed for a butt on Henderson just before half-time. Geiger showed him a yellow card, probably the first time that has been considered the correct punishment for such an offence.

As they left the field for half-time, Barrios shook Geiger’s hand, and thanked him. A Colombian coach deliberately shoulder barged Raheem Sterling. It was a rather unpleasant scene and England were sucked into it at times. Colombian players made a meal of every challenge, but then Maguire dived, too. He could easily have been booked had Geiger spotted that.

Cameos from the shoot out? Well, Pickford’s save from Bacca obviously – and Marcus Rashford’s penalty. He has never taken one at senior level but he was second up here, England 2-1 down, smashing the ball left as if he was messing about with his mates. Credit Southgate’s influence there, too. This is a rare spirit England’s manager has engendered. Where it will take him from here, we can only dare to imagine.