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World Cup semi-finals: what you need to know in charts

World Cup semi-finals: what you need to know in charts

World Cup semi-finals: what you need to know in charts
July 12
01:38 2018
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Stats of the day

After Belgium beat Brazil 2-1 to reach the World Cup semi-finals, manager Roberto Martinez received acclaim for pulling off a tactical masterclass. After all, claiming the scalp of the five-time winners is the sort of signature victory that can be the mark of a champion. Yet despite their impressive and historic win, there were worrying signs for the Red Devils.

After Belgium took the lead in the first half, Brazil fired in 20 shots — more than any other team at the tournament had while trailing. Three of those can be considered “big chances” — opportunities with at least a one-in-five chance of scoring. This is the equal highest number that any trailing team have created.

While they were behind, Brazil also managed six fast “counter attacks” — moves beginning outside the final third but progressing quickly up the pitch and ending in a shot. Despite playing against a side supposed to be protecting a lead, Brazil managed more quick counters than any other team who were trailing. And yet, Brazil could only score once. That can probably be put down to bad luck, as well as a stellar performance from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, rather than a watertight Belgian defence.

Conclusion: even if France fall behind in their semi-final against Belgium on Tuesday night, Les Bleus should be encouraged. Steered by Martinez, Belgium appear unable to park the bus.

Sterling service

Raheem Sterling in action against Sweden in the quarter-final © China News Service

England beat Sweden on Saturday to qualify for their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years. Still, praise was not universal. On the BBC’s website, which allows fans to rate the performances of each player, the Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling received the lowest score among the team. Some fans called for him to be dropped.

But Sterling is important to England’s style of play at this tournament. He has not managed to score but remains England’s best conduit for getting the ball upfield — a position from which chances can be created or free kicks and corners can be won. This is vital as the team have been reliant on scoring from set pieces high up the pitch rather than converting from open play.

In the World Cup so far, Sterling has received 11.2 completed forward passes into the final third of the pitch per 90 minutes played — the highest across the whole team. His rival for a starting spot, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford comes in second with, albeit well down on Sterling with 9.8 forward passes received, followed by Ruben Loftus-Cheek (9.6), Jamie Vardy (8.4) and Dele Alli (8.4).

Sterling is most noticed for missing some glaring chances. But tactically he contributes to the team in ways not always picked up by fans.

Stories you may have missed

The FT’s Simon Kuper suggests that one part of England’s success at this tournament, which has been written out of the narrative, is dumb luck.

“The idea that [England manager Gareth] Southgate has achieved a stunning breach with past English failures is false. In 10 World Cups since 1982, England have survived the group stage eight times and reached the quarter-finals five times. It is approximately the performance you would expect from a side that are usually about 10th best on earth.”

Simon has also been travelling across Russia for the past week, repeatedly flying across the country to attend matches. The constant travel has allowed him to bump into ordinary Russians along the way.

This included Sergei, a 22-year-old policeman, who was “thrilled to speak to a foreigner”. “How many had he met in his life, I asked. He held finger and thumb an inch apart: almost none. But his unit had taken a language course before the World Cup, and now he was determined to improve his languages. I asked if he had been abroad. Sergei typed a sentence into the translation website: “Police are not allowed to go outside Russia.”

The encounter a reminder that the tournament, though magnificently staged, is being organised by an increasingly autocratic regime. Simon concludes: “I’m pro-Russian, just not pro-Putin.”

World Cup Extra will be appearing each Wednesday and Friday morning. Find us on ft.com/worldcup2018 or follow World Cup 2018 on MyFT. Next edition: Friday July 13.

If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when World Cup 2018 stories are published, just click the button “add to MyFT”, which appears at the top of this page. You can find World Cup Extra on ft.com/worldcup2018 or follow World Cup 2018 on MyFT



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