MOSCOW — England on Sunday was looking forward to its first World Cup semifinal since 1990 as Russian fans thanked their disappointed players after their fairytale World Cup run was halted by Croatia.
Gareth Southgate’s young team swept Sweden aside 2-0 on Saturday, sparking mass celebrations in England, where at least 20 million people watched the match on TV.
They will face Croatia, who had to endure a strength-sapping penalty shoot-out for the second consecutive match, in front of 80,000 people in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.
But first Roberto Martinez’s exciting Belgian side will attempt to reach their first ever World Cup final when they play favorites France in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
England is basking in the team’s run to the last four of the World Cup as fans start to believe that they can lift the trophy for the first time since 1966.
“Southgreat” trumpeted the Sun on Sunday. “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!” said the Sunday Telegraph.
Goals from Leicester defender Harry Maguire and Tottenham’s Dele Alli sealed victory against Sweden in Samara while man-of-the-match Jordan Pickford made three outstanding saves.
“England’s players have guaranteed they will return from the World Cup as heroes. Now they can dream of a grander ambition. Can they come home as legends?” asked former England defender Jamie Carragher in a column for the Sunday Telegraph.
NO FIFA BAN FOR VIDA
Croatia defender Domagoj Vida escaped a FIFA ban on Sunday after posting a clip dedicating his country’s victory over Russia in the quarterfinals to Ukraine.
The former Dynamo Kiev player scored an extra-time goal and one of Croatia’s penalties in a 4-3 shoot-out win over the World Cup hosts in Sochi on Saturday.
The ponytailed 29-year-old shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” in a video posted by former Croatia international Ognjen Vukojevic shortly after the match.
FIFA said it had studied the video and decided to issue a warning to Vida but would take no further measures.
Vida told Russian media after the clip was made public that he had meant no offense. “I love Russian people,” Vida was quoted as saying. “It was just a joke.”
“Glory to Ukraine!” was a slogan of the former Soviet republic’s pro-EU revolution that toppled a Russian-backed president in 2014.
The revolt was condemned as illegal by Moscow and sparked a crisis in relations between the two neighboring states.
Looking forward to the match against England, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic told a press conference on Sunday that the game would be more open.
Russian fans paid tribute to their team, who exited the tournament after their defeat on penalties following 120 grueling minutes of football.
The Russians were the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams at the World Cup but, just as in the previous round against Spain, they refused to die despite enjoying just 36% of possession against a superior Croatian team.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov led his players onto a stage to a heroes’ welcome in a Moscow fan zone. — AFP