Croatia and England join Belgium and France in semi-finals after both winning their WC quarter-finals on Saturday.
Russia Salutes 'Heroes' After Croatia Ends World Cup Dream
The Kremlin dubbed the Russian national team heroes and proud soccer fans saluted their underdog host team after the side lost on penalties to Croatia, bringing an end to its World Cup challenge at the quarter-finals.
Across Russia, hand-wringing fans had held their breath through extra time, hoping the team could pull off another upset. Russia entered the World Cup as the lowest ranking side, but reached the quarter finals against the odds.
The disappointment of defeat late on Saturday soon melted into applause as fans toasted a national side that had repeatedly defied expectations. Fans spilling out of bars chanted “Russia,” dancing in the street and singing along as music blared.
“Our boys, they really did great. A huge thank you to them for this tournament. What we achieved, that was so cool,” Andrey, a lawyer, said next to a street corner screen that had shown the match.
President Vladimir Putin did not attend the game, but watched remotely, saying the players were heroes despite the defeat and the country was proud of them, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by Interfax.
“He watched, he was rooting for the team. We lost in a fair and great game. They are still great guys for us, they are heroes. They were dying on the pitch, we are proud with them,” Peskov was quoted as saying.
Despite the result, street parties broke out in central Moscow in scenes reminiscent of the celebrations following Russia’s shock victory over Spain on Sunday. The Kremlin likened those festivities to images of celebrations after victory in World War Two.
In Saturday’s other match, England defied almost three decades of disappointment to move confidently into the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990 as headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli downed a dogged but toothless Sweden 2-0.
Gareth Southgate’s young squad powered on as they continued to make a mockery of dampened pre-tournament expectations with another impressive display in Russia.
They were set on their way when Maguire rose imperiously to head home from a corner and Alli added the killer blow after the break as England showed they are not entirely dependent on the tournament’s leading scorer Harry Kane for goals.
If anything, England’s hero on the day was to be found at the other end of the pitch as keeper Jordan Pickford produced three superb saves to shut out the workmanlike Swedes.
“We had to withstand a lot of physical pressure,” said England coach Gareth Southgate. “The resilience of the team and togetherness of the team today was crucial. Today our spirit was as good as theirs and our quality a little bit better.”
The fans who serenaded their side at the Samara Arena stayed long after fulltime to herald the achievement, knowing that with so many of the favorites having departed, England have arguably their best chance of global glory in more than half a century.