Heroes And Villains Of The World Cup: Matchday 21

One of Croatia or England will deservedly be in the final of the 2018 World Cup.

Congratulations to England, but that second game was a stunner, goodness gracious me. As a neutral, it’s difficult to remember anything from the early match after what we’ve just witnessed in Sochi. That was everything: crackling, attacking, heart-palpitating goodness. I can’t even think straight. Russia’s out, but Russia really won me over with that one.  

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Heroes and Villains of the World Cup: Matchday 21

Hero: Denis Cheryshev (Russia)

Russia came out the blocks like an “Olympic Athletes from Russia” skeleton medal winner (that's Nikita Tregubov). That was beyond beautiful to see from Stanislav Cherchesov’s men; that's the way you win passage to the semifinals of the World Cup (I'm talking to you, Sweden).

In the 31st minute, Fisht Olympic Stadium achieved lift-off when Cheryshev curled an immaculate strike from distance.

Croatia would equalize only eight minutes later, but the point had been made: Russia fully deserved its place in the quarterfinals, and perhaps even in the semis.  

What a match. What an unreal scene when Mario Fernandes grabbed the equalizer. What a heart wrenching shootout. Russia played really, really well. 

Honorable mention: Jordan Pickford (Sunderland)

The 2-0 scoreline looks like something of a formality (and England deserves a ton of credit for its approach throughout) but it could’ve been much more fraught without Pickford’s three massive saves. I love the success he’s having as the antithesis to Thibaut Courtois. 

Villain: Marcus Berg (Sweden)

The fact Sweden advanced to the quarterfinals with a team ethic that was forged after the European Championships makes Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s omission something of a mute point, buuuut … 

Berg should’ve certainly buried at least one of his two shots against England, but he couldn’t find the back of the net the whole tournament. 

Honorable mention: Fyodor Smolov (Russia)

If you elect to take the first penalty in the shootout, it’s because you’re really feeling yourself. What was this? A Panenka? It was terrible. I mean, I understand the potential power of delivering a soul-crushing Panenka right off the bat — just see Andrea Pirlo vs. England at Euro 2012 — but my god.

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