The soccer news starts with unabashed enthusiasm from England, benefiting from losing their last group stage game and getting past Colombia on the weaker side of the World Cup bracket. That last bit should resonate, with England seeing a clear path to the final. That comes courtesy of Russia knocking out the biggest threat in the lower half of the bracket with their win on penalties over Spain on July 1. England also needed penalties to see off Colombia, perhaps offering a word of caution over going all in with a team that has yet to fully impose their game against a strong opponent at this World Cup.
"Of course it’s a special moment but I’m now thinking about Sweden," England manager Gareth Southgate said. "Sweden are another team we have a poor record against. We have underestimated them for years. They are brilliant at what they do. We know exactly how they play and it’s going to be a real tough test. I want us to go on.”
Sweden is the only team in the lower half of the bracket to win their round of 16 game in regulation. They knocked out Switzerland 1-0, with the Swiss ranked 6th in the world to Sweden's 24th. Say what you will about the FIFA Rankings, it's a gulf that should've favored Switzerland. It also means another game where England is the higher ranked team in 12th-place.
As always when England gets a result, we saw pundits turn into fans and the expected overplay of what just happened. England advanced on penalties! Harry Kane has six goals, half of them penalties! The ref was out to get us, but we ended up with yet another penalty! That carries the narrative from earlier in the World Cup. England beat Panama 6-1! England didn't end up in the top-half of the bracket!
It's worth remembering how this run started. England barely got past Tunisia 2-1, with Tunisia following that up with a 5-2 loss to Belgium. So here we are with the next game, a beatable opponent with England needing to stay out of their own way to take full advantage.
That means knocking out Sweden one way or another to face the winner of Russia vs Croatia in the semifinals. Croatia knocked out Denmark, the team tied with England for 12th-place in the rankings, 3-2 on penalties. It wasn't exactly an inspired performance, leaving them with the same questions as the other two teams finishing 1-1 through extra time and then taking the game on penalties.
Meanwhile, in the top-half of the bracket there ae the types of games that make a World Cup. Uruguay knocked out Portugal and France beat Argentina to setup a meeting that's tough to preview. Uruguay might be the most underrated team left in this tournament, something knocking out France is sure to fix. Brazil vs Belgium is interesting because of how their round of 16 games played out. Brazil had no issues denying Mexico a 5th game, winning 2-0. Belgium had plenty against Japan, needing a late winner to knock them out 3-2.
SI's Jonathan Wilson profiles Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez. Reuters' Jack Tarrant with Japan looking for a new coach. The BBC's Simon Stone reports that Real Madrid might transfer Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus.
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Photo courtesy of DC United