Big guns promise all-out war in World Cup Last 8

BRAZIL’S midfielders Casemiro (L) and Fernandinho (R) stretch during a training session at Yug Sports Stadium in Sochi during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. AFP


MOSCOW, Russia — The World Cup hit the pause button on Wednesday as the eight remaining teams geared up for the quarterfinals after England became the final side to qualify following a penalty shootout win against Colombia.

Neymar’s Brazil is the favorite to win a record-extending sixth World Cup at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on July 15 but France, Belgium and Uruguay are all in their side of the draw.

Gareth Southgate’s England are the only former winners in the bottom half of the draw together with host nation Russia, Croatia and Sweden.

England’s victory over Colombia on Tuesday takes Gareth Southgate’s team into what looks like a winnable match against the Swedes, who edged out Switzerland 1-0 in the Last 16.

On a dramatic night in Moscow’s Spartak Stadium, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made a key save from Carlos Bacca before Eric Dier’s spot-kick gave England its first-ever win on penalties at a World Cup at the fourth attempt to end a jinx that dogged it for so long.

The Sun tabloid coined his save the “Hand of Jord,” harking back to Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” incident in 1986 when the Argentine used his hand to put the ball into the net against England.

“It’s the headline we have waited a lifetime to write… England win on penalties (Yes really!),” the paper said.

The largest British audience for a live sporting event since the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics watched the shootout — 23.6 million viewers tuned in.

Southgate said he was already looking forward to Saturday’s quarterfinals against Sweden in Samara with a Last Four clash against either Croatia or Russia up for grabs.

“This was special but I want us to go on,” said Southgate, whose own penalty miss saw England lose to Germany in the semifinals of Euro 96 at Wembley.

“Sweden is another team we have a poor record against. We have underestimated it for years. It has created its own story and made history. I don’t want to go home yet.”

England captain Harry Kane leads the scoring chart in Russia with six strikes, two clear of Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku.

Janne Andersson’s Sweden has recovered well from a heartbreaking group stage defeat by Germany, edging out Switzerland 1-0 in the Last 16, thanks to a goal from RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg.

In the other match in England’s half of the draw, host nation Russia — riding a wave of euphoria after their shock win against 2010 winner Spain — faces a Croatia side inspired by Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric in Sochi on Saturday.

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