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England win but hardly thrill, Modric shines for Croatia


"Football's coming home" are the words on everyone's lips right now in England. The inventors of the game have come to this World Cup brimming with belief, with a popular coach in Gareth Southgate who has given the elegant waistcoat a new lease of life, and with a top-class goalscorer in Harry Kane. Not to mention a batch of promising youngsters. And they have found their way to the semi-finals, having not got that far at a World Cup since 1990 and only reached the last four once before then, when they hosted - and won - the tournament in 1966. Yesterday, they saw off a stubborn, battling Swedish side which, despite its limitations, still managed to draw three fantastic saves from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

England are through, but it was not a good game in Samara

It wasn't a good game. England are winning, but are hardly setting pulses racing. They've got where they are with their set-piece prowess, with two lesser lights - Pickford and Harry Maguire - taking on starring roles, with the goals of Kane (who they struggled to find yesterday) and not much more. To make up for that dull affair in Samara, the day's other quarter-final - of which, on paper, less had been expected - gave us more to get our teeth into. It was a game we Spaniards watched with a sense of what might have been; it could have been us out there, and I can't get that out of my head. But it wasn't; it was Russia. And they pushed Croatia right to the wire, taking them to extra time and penalties, where Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive kick for Zlatko Dalic's men. The Croats are where they deserve to be.

Modric celebrates after Croatia's shoot-out win over Russia.
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Modric celebrates after Croatia's shoot-out win over Russia.RONALD WITTEKEFE

Russians make up for backs-to-the-wall gameplan against Spain

Russia may be out, but they atoned for their inglorious, negative approach against Spain. Spurred on by the confidence their good results have given them, they showed much more ambition, and offered up the impression of being a proper side. Denis Cheryshev hit his fourth goal of the tournament, Artem Dzyuba once again fought tooth and nail up top and Alan Dzagoev reappeared in extra time, his sweetly delivered free-kick setting up Mario Fernandes to head in the hosts' leveller. However, in a match in which the excitement - and the impact of the wonderful Luka Modric - just grew and grew, Croatia never gave in. It was a vibrant spectacle complemented by the mutual shows of generosity by the dignitaries in the royal box. In the end, Russia come away from this World Cup with honour intact.