STAR PREVIEW: Saturday’s World Cup 1/4 Finals

Sweden v England
FIFA World Cup 2018 Quarter-Final
15:00 BBC One

Germany out in the group stages, a (supposedly) easy route to the Final and winning a penalty shootout – it’s been a World Cup of dreams for England fans so far. And just as the country quietens down from Tuesday night, it’s almost time to go again, this time against the Swedes. I could make this preview very short, three words in fact! It’s coming home. I will try and find a bet somewhere for you though.

It’s always hard to find a betting angle in a game that you’re emotionally invested in yourself – personally all I want is England to qualify for the Semi’s, like the rest of the country, but if there’s value to be had out there you have to try and take advantage.

Sweden have impressed me so far – they have given their nation much cause for optimism in the post-Zlatan era, with Leipzip winger Emil Forsberg standing out for me so far. They’ve been solid at the back (three clean sheets out of four) and constantly look dangerous when counter-attacking, particularly against Germany and Mexico in the group stages.

England passed a difficult test against Colombia; the confidence that comes from dispelling the “penalty demons” could be huge, whilst the courage shown in going through despite the huge blow of Colombia’s late equaliser was to be commended.

I do expect this to be another nervy affair, the open draw could put added pressure on Southgate’s men despite his efforts to keep things one game at a time. I was tempted to play the unders on the goals but 4/9 for under 2.5 looks short enough. I would rather put my money on this being a slow-starting, slightly edgy affair and can see the value in under 0.5 first half goals at 7/5.

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Russia v Croatia
FIFA World Cup 2018 Quarter-Final
19:00 ITV

World Cup fever might have overtaken England and it has also done so for the host nation, Russia, who are one game away from a World Cup semi-final against Croatia.

The host nation has already defied all expectations following the group stages with two pretty comprehensive wins to put them into the last 16, but a matchup with Spain was expected to be the end of the road. And after the Spanish giants took the lead on just 12 minutes, the game was playing out according to the predictions beforehand.

However, a moment of madness from Gerard Pique led to a penalty that Artem Dzyuba would put home, and from then until the end of extra time they managed to hold off the former World Champions. This was a hugely creditable effort – Spain had over 1,000 passes between them – although they were fortunate that the favourites produced such insipid performances until the second half of extra time, when Igor Akinfeev made a fine save from Rodrigo before they survived what looked like a strong double appeal a penalty towards the end of extra time.

Igor Akinfeev’s saves from Koke and then Iago Aspas earned an amazing penalty shoot win and now they are two games away from a World Cup final with Croatia standing in their way.

They too had to go through a penalty shootout to eliminate Denmark, when Danijel Subasic saved three penalties in what had been a disappointing contest given the very good start. Croatria should have gone through after Luka Modric missed a late penalty, which was brilliantly saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

It was a moment of relief for Zlatko Dalic and his side rather than the joy that Russia had experienced after what had been a very disappointing performance. Croatia had been the best side in the tournament through the group stages but after Mario Mandzukic had replied straight back to an early Denmark goal they did not carry that momentum through the game.

It was particularly worrying how they seemed to have no answer to Denmark pushing their fullbacks higher in the second half and more importantly Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic did not have the same fluency they showed during the opening group stages, having a knock-on effect on the rest of the team, and Denmark looked the better side for much of the second half and extra time.

Croatia were amongst the best sides at Euro 2016 but performance levels dropped badly when they went out to Portugal (albeit eventual winners) and it must be a worry that the same could happen here after peaking early.

This ought to encourage Russia, who have no real reason to change from the gameplan that saw them earn penalties against Spain. Ilya Kutepov has been excellent for his country when upped in class whilst Mario Fernandes and Fedor Kudriashov both went extremely narrow against Spain when called upon.

Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, and Ante Rebic are all capable of being much more incisive than their Spanish counterparts but they will not succeed if playing as they did last Sunday, and it looks like we will be having a game that is just as tight as last week. The draw in 90 minutes looks

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