WORLD CUP DIARY: It's anybody’s guess who will triumph in the semis
The semifinals of the World Cup are upon us and it is anybody’s guess who will triumph from here on in.
France look the most likely‚ but they have had mixed success in semifinals and are up against a “together” Belgian unit.
Or England might use their set-piece prowess to down Croatia in their semifinal on Wednesday.
This has been a World Cup for the dead-ball specialists‚ with more goals scored from set-pieces than ever before at a tournament during the group stages in Russia.
And that continued into the knockout rounds‚ with five of the 11 goals scored coming from either free-kicks or corners.
Overall‚ 42 percent of goals in the World Cup have come from set plays or penalties‚ beating the previous record of 36 percent from the 1998 World Cup and smashing the portion of goals from these situations in 2014 (27 percent)‚ 2010 (24 percent)‚ 2002 (29 percent) and 1994 (33 percent).
England reached the semi-finals for the first time in 28 years with the help of eight goals from set-pieces‚ more than any other side in the tournament‚ including three penalties.
France will be appearing in the World Cup semifinals for the sixth time‚ with mixed success in previous visits to this stage of the competition.
Their first semifinals was in 1958 when they were outclassed by Brazil as Pele scored a hat-trick and the South Americans won 5-2.
They had to wait until 1982 for their next semifinal‚ but this time lost to West Germany 5-4 on penalties after the teams had been locked at 3-3 in an absolute classic.
Four years later they were back‚ playing the West Germans again‚ and they lost once more‚ this time a routine 2-0 success for their opponents.
But the last two times they have been semifinalists they have enjoyed success‚ beating Croatia 2-1 in 1998 as they went on to lift the trophy‚ and beating Portugal 1-0 in 2006 when they lost to Italy in the decider.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez believes his side’s run to the semifinals of the World Cup has a lot to do with the same group of core players having been together since playing for the country’s junior national teams.
That familiarity with each other can create almost a ‘club’ environment in the squad and it is that togetherness that has been a big factor for them.
"The players have been working together extraordinarily well for many years‚ and they deserve to be exactly where they are today‚" Martinez told ESPN FC.
"I feel that the most important aspect we worked on was the notion of being a team. Individual skills and talent are important‚ but in these tournaments‚ it's absolutely necessary to play as a team.
"It's a trip into the unknown. We've never been in such a situation‚ and that's why we need our team spirit more than ever against France. We need to be the best version of ourselves."
NO BRAZIL BASHING
Brazil’s national team received a surprisingly warm reception from fans when they arrived home from the World Cup.
The players looked distraught after being knocked out in the quarterfinals by Belgium on Friday‚ but fans received them warmly in Rio de Janeiro.
Supporters chanted and cheered the players on as they got off the airplane and appeared in the airport lounge.
Noticeable by his absence was star man Neymar‚ who appears not to have travelled back to Brazil with the rest of the side.
“I would like to reciprocate this warmth by saying thank you from my heart‚” coach Tite told the assembled fans at the airport.
A Kenyan assistant referee that was due to officiate at the World Cup has thrown away his career after taking a US$600 (R8‚000) bribe during the African Nations Championship in Morocco in January.
He was filmed taking the cash and has received a life ban from officiating as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) tries to tackle the scourge of match-fixing.
They have sanctioned 22 match officials in all for various offences‚ with 10 banned for between two and 10 years‚ and another 11 suspended while their cases are heard.