England v Sweden, Saturday
It’s time we gave Sweden the respect they deserve, not only for rebelling the odds at the World Cup but for doing so consistently over the last 18 months or so. Since crashing out of Euro 2016 and losing their best ever player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Janne Andersson has turned this squad into an extremely purposeful team who are very difficult to beat. They have beaten Portugal, France and Italy since Euro 2016 and they topped a group where Germany were the clear favourites.
They relish their underdog status and will not fear England. They boasting an impressive international record against England, with just one defeat in their last eight competitive encounters. They do have any star name but their record of five clean sheets in their last six matches shows they can rely on their defensive organisation.
England have reasons to be concerned. They have struggled to create a great deal from open play since their scintillating start against Tunisia, particularly against the two stronger sides they have faced. Sweden have created seven more chances from open play than England but they do not have anyone as deadly as Harry Kane, who has scored six goals from just nine shots at this World Cup.
England’s superior quality should just about win out, but it’s unlikely to be easy viewing yet again. Southgate’s side are the only quarter-finalists who have not kept a clean sheet in Russia so it may fall to Kane to bail them out once more.
Head to head
England and Sweden have met 24 times, with the Three Lions winning eight games, losing seven, and drawing nine.
The Three Lions won the last competitive fixture between the two side as Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck all scored in a Euro 2012 group game.
England beat Colombia to reach World Cup quarter-finals
Injury-doubt Jamie Vardy could not play a full part in training with his England team-mates on Friday, going through a routine away from the group.
The Leicester striker sustained a groin strain during the last-16 penalty shootout victory over Colombia on Tuesday, a problem that required an injection, and he was only able to join in with the warm-up for Friday morning’s training session in Zelenogorsk.
The Football Association said that every other member of Gareth Southgate’s squad was fit enough to train. Gareth Southgate hinted that Dele Alli, who was a fitness concern, will keep his place in the starting XI.
Prediction: England 2-1 Sweden.
Croatia v Russia
Having secured the upset of the round-of-16, if not the entire competition, Russia are beginning to believe in the seemingly impossible. With no optimism surrounding the squad or manager before the tournament, the hosts have already gone further than they would have expected and will see any progress from this stage as a huge achievement. Their odds to beat Croatia may not be as long as they were before the Spain match, but there remains little doubt about who will be the favourites in Sochi.
That being said, Croatia’s performance in the round-of-16 left a lot to be desired. Zlatko Dalic’s side were among the most convincing teams in the group stage but looked well under par against Denmark. Russia manager Denis Cherchesov will have taken note of the way the Danes combated Croatia’s threat, particularly from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield.
Reports suggest that Alan Dzagoev, who was injured when Russia played Saudi Arabia in the first game of the tournament, could return, though that would likely force star man Aleksandr Golovin out wide. Denis Cheryshev should return and Russia are also likely to revert to a back four. The likely absence of left-back Yuri Zhirkov is a blow and we could see a crucial mismatch on that flank between his replacement, Fedor Kudryashov, and the lively Croatia winger Ante Rebic.
Saturday night’s game is probably the toughest to call. These two sides have taken and conceded fewer shots on target than the other six quarter-finalists, so goals may be at a premium. The hosts will hope to ride the increasing wave of optimism but Croatia will surely improve from their last match and progress to the semi-finals.
Head to head
The two nations have met three times previously, with Russia never victorious.
They met twice during qualification for Euro 2008, both games ended as a draw, while their most recent clash saw Croatia saw three times in the final half an hour to run out 3-1 wins in a 2015 friendly.
Russia have no suspended players but there are concerns over the fitness of left winger Yuri Zhirkov with a damaged tendon expected to rule him out of Saturday’s game.
Aleksandr Samedov trained alone as the squad were put through their paces on Tuesday. After a brief team discussion with coach Stanislav Cherchesov, the winger underwent fitness tests and worked through an individual training programme.
Croatia have no suspended players or current fitness issues.
Prediction: Croatia 2-0 Russia.