'We restored some pride in the shirt': England captain Kane

England captain Harry Kane says he believes his side "restored pride in the shirt" after the team's gallant march to the World Cup semi-final, which ended in a 2-1 defeat to Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

A Mario Mandzukic goal in the 109th minute sealed an extra time victory for Croatia after an early Kieran Trippier free kick was canceled out in the second half by Ivan Perisic during normal time.

“We gave it everything, I know we’re gonna look back and say we could have done this and what but at the end of the day it was small margins in a big game and it didn’t go our way today," said striker Kane, currently the tournament's top scorer with six goals.

Kane had lead England to their first World Cup semi-final since the Italia '90 tournament 28 years ago, and in doing so scored a record amount of goals. Trippier's set piece on five minutes was England's 12th at Russia 2018, more than any other Three Lions side.

England will now play Belgium on July 10th in the third place playoff match, a game that could see Kane extend his personal goal tally, but is not the game he would have initially wanted to have played in.

“It’s not something I’m really thinking about at the moment to be honest, it’s not the game we wanted to be in," Kane admitted.

"It is what it is, we’ll try and play that game with as much pride and try and finish on a high, but we’re still gonna be hurting of course in that game, in three or four days time we’re still gonna be thinking about this one and what could have been, you know.

“Yeah of course [I want to play]. I think everyone will want to play but the gaffer will make a decision but yeah we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved and we know we’ve restored some pride in the shirt back home as well.

"So we can hold our heads up high but of course we know it’s an opportunity that on another day we could have done even more," he added.

Tottenham Hotspur striker Kane paid tribute to Croatia, led by Real Madrid's Luka Madrid in the center midfield, and conceded that the "small margins" that make such a big difference didn't go his side's way on the night.

"We had a good spell we went one nil up and we had a couple of chances we're we could have got another. Second half, fair play to Croatia they came out and put the pressure on and we were under the cosh for a little while," the 24-year-old skipper said.

"But we handled it well, but unfortunately we conceded at the wrong time, after that I thought we again picked it up again and done well.

"But it’s small margins, in extra time we get a corner cleared off the line. These are the things that you need to go your way in the big games and unfortunately for us it didn’t."

In Gareth Southgate, England have a manager who has brought new vigor to the national team setup, and who has managed to transform a side who crashed out to minnows Iceland at Euro 2016 into World Cup semifinalists.

Kane revealed the plan is to "build on foundations" set in place by the 47-year-old manager, who is still a rookie on the international stage.

"The gaffer had a little word and said we should all be proud of ourselves. Nothing he is going to say is going to make us feel any better," Kane said.

"To be proud and hold our head up high we've come a long way, especially from two years ago. You can hear the fans singing out there after the defeat it’s a proud feeling you know and all we can do is try and build on it."

"We've built a good foundation after the last couple of years with the manager and it's important that we carry that on, we've shown that we can do well in these tournaments and the aim now is not to wait another 20-odd years to get in another big semi-final, to come again and try and achieve our dream."

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France vs Belgium: A 'Final Quality' Match

This is one of the matches that could easily have been the Final of this 2018 World Cup in Russia. Both teams have the strength, speed and determination to be a FIFA World Champion, but only one can take a step forward to the finals.

France and Belgium will meet Tuesday in St. Petersburg, after both teams booked their spots among the most talented in the 2018 staging of the soccer World Cup. Both teams were among the favorites during the 'pre-tournament' analysis.

This fixture is one of the matches that could easily have been the 'Final' of this 2018 World Cup in Russia. Both teams have the strength, speed and determination to be a FIFA World Champion, but only one can take a giant step forward to the finals.

The Breakdown: Belgium

A Belgian national team, with players such as Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, who are part of the country's "golden generation," directing them is Spanish Coach Roberto Martinez, who has had a positive impact on this national outfit.

Belgium has waited over three decades to get as far as the semifinals in a World Cup. Now, with well-orchestrated teamwork, the "golden generation" is determined to fight for the championship. This is the team with the highest number of goals scored in the World Cup, 15, so far.

Complemented by one of the world's best goalkeepers, Thibaut Courtois.

The Breakdown: France

Facing them is France, the 1998 World Cup winner, that has players such as Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba or Antoine Griezman. They are trained by Didier Deschamps, who won the Cup in 1998 as a player and is now trying to do the same as a coach.

Another key piece in this national team, to possibly achieve the important victory, is the experience of its goalkeeper. Even though France has a young team, they also have a very experienced player on the team, the goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.

The Conclusion

This match promises lots of action - a firecracker, on paper anyway.

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Croatia remove Vukojevic from World Cup coaching staff after ‘glory to Ukraine’ video

The Croatian football federation has removed Ognjen Vukojevic from the team’s World Cup coaching staff after he was filmed dedicating the quarter-final win against Russia to Ukraine.

Croatia beat Russia 4-3 on penalties in their World Cup quarter-final in Sochi on Saturday, after the scores finished level at 2-2 following extra-time.

After the game, a clip emerged featuring defender Domagoj Vida and assistant coach Vukojevic in which they dedicated the victory to Ukraine. Both have formerly played for club team Dynamo Kiev.

Vida is heard saying “glory to Ukraine,” after which Vukojevic says: “this victory is for Dynamo Kiev and for Ukraine.”

The Croatian FA had issued a press statement on Sunday attempting to clarify the incident and calling on players to avoid sending messages that could be deemed to be politically provocative.

However, it has now announced that Vukojevic will no longer remain on the team’s coaching staff at the World Cup.

“The Croatian Football Association has decided to undo Vukojevic's functions at the Croatian National Team where he performed the role of the observer and his team accreditation for the World Cup was withdrawn,” the statement in Croatian said.

“The Croatian Football Association apologizes this way to the Russian public for the behavior of a member of the staff of the national team.

“Ognjen Vukojevic and Domagoj Vida also apologize for statements that, in their intent, did not have political connotations, but left room for such interpretations,” the statement added.

FIFA has rules in place which can sanction players for “provoking the general public,” but the Croatian pair avoided punishment and were issued with a warning.

Vida, 29, who scored in extra-time against Russia and also in the penalty shootout, had earlier attempted to clarify the clip.

“Our intention was not to offend anyone. Throughout my career, I have had teammates from many countries and I respect them all, and just as I have many friends in Ukraine, I have a number of them in Russia – and I am proud of all of them," the defender said.

“I am happy to speak the Russian language, I enjoy Russian hospitality at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and I sincerely hope that this message will not be understood as anything else but an expression of gratitude to our friends in Ukraine for their support – not in the match against Russia, but during the entire World Cup."

Croatia move on to face England in their World Cup semi-final in Moscow on Wednesday – their first appearance at this stage of the tournament since 1998.

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‘Drink when Neymar falls’: Belgium fans to play drinking game to cope with Brazil star’s play-acting

Belgium fans are anticipating so much play-acting from the notoriously-tricky Brazil striker Neymar in their World Cup quarter-final clash in Kazan on Friday evening that they’ve invented a drinking game to help them cope.

Supporters Stanley Vleminckx and Matthew De Ridder perhaps thought the best way to deal with the histrionics of Brazil’s top striker was to come up with a game called ‘Drink every time Neymar falls.’ More than 8,500 people have registered as “participants” in the game on Facebook, with another 24,000 people said to be “interested.”

The event is set for the Reck Wechter festival in Werchter, a village north of Brussels, but people are invited to take part in the event all over the world.

“I’m a Belgium supporter, born and raised here,” event organizer Vleminckx told RT.

“Neymar isn’t a bad player but I think he needs to win an Oscar for his performance this World Cup.”

Neymar’s play-acting has been roundly criticized throughout the World Cup, with the Paris Saint-Germain star often seen throwing himself down under the merest contact. Former France and Manchester United star Eric Cantona led the critics in calling for Neymar to concentrate on football rather than rolling around on the floor like he’d narrowly survived an assassination attempt.

Statisticians at Swiss broadcaster RTS have calculated that Neymar has spent 14 of the 360 minutes he has played in Russia lying on the turf complaining of an apparent injury. For the last 16 tie against Mexico, it was estimated that Neymar spent five minutes and 30 seconds on the deck.

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‘Spasibo, Sochi!’ Brazil thank World Cup host city before leaving their base

Brazil have left a thank-you message to the World Cup host city of Sochi, where the team were based during the tournament’s group stage. They shared a grateful post from their official Twitter account.

“Starting from now, the Brazil squad says goodbye to her home in Russia and travels from city to city at every stage of the World Cup,” read the tweet, which was accompanied by several photos of smiling Brazilian players.

In a specially organized farewell ceremony, Mayor of Sochi Anatoly Pakhomov presented Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) President Rogerio Caboclo with a Russian doll depicting a sea port and Sochi tea, the world’s most northern tea, which grows in Russia’s southern resort.

The Samba Boys returned the compliment by giving Pakhomov a yellow football jersey, which was signed by all the players competing at the World Cup.

“The Brazilian team liked Sochi very much,” Pakhomov said, TASS reported. “They highly praised the city, the sea and the training base. They were also impressed with Sochi’s hospitality. They were satisfied with everything in Sochi.”

The five-time World Cup champions have already arrived in Kazan, where they will play their quarter-final game against Belgium on July 6.

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England dare to dream after Belgium World Cup heroics

England chase their first win in a tournament knockout match for 12 years on Tuesday as they face Colombia after the World Cup draw opened up invitingly for Harry Kane's team.

In a tournament full of surprises, Gareth Southgate's young England team are the only former champions left in the lower half of the draw following the shock exit of Spain.

If England get past Jose Pekerman's tough South American side in Moscow, they would play the winners of Tuesday's other last-16 tie between Sweden and Switzerland before a potential semi-final against Russia or Croatia.

Brazil and France lurk in the top half of the draw but Lionel Messi's Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal are out.

Third-ranked Belgium avoided joining them on the tournament scrapheap late on Monday, mounting one of the great World Cup comebacks to beat Japan 3-2 in the dying seconds of injury time.

They became the first team to come from two goals down to win a World Cup knockout match since West Germany fought back from 2-0 down against England in 1970 to win 3-2 after extra-time.

Despite a growing sense of optimism over England's chances in Russia, manager Southgate is warning his team against thinking too far ahead.

England, who won the World Cup in 1966, have a dreadful record in major tournaments, and have not won a knockout match since they beat Ecuador in the 2006 World Cup.

"I think we've been in this position before many times over the last however many years," Southgate said.

"It's pointless about us even thinking about what might happen after tomorrow's game. We're focusing on tomorrow's performance and then maybe things will fall into place."

Southgate used England's shock defeat to tiny Iceland in the last 16 at Euro 2016 as a warning not to get carried away.

England scored eight goals in their opening two matches, beating Tunisia 2-1 with a late Kane goal before thrashing Panama 6-1. They then lost 1-0 to Belgium as Southgate made wholesale changes.

Kane, the tournament's top marksman with five goals in two matches, will be desperate to get back on the scoresheet as he hunts the Golden Boot.

Dele Alli is fully fit and could return in midfield after missing the past two games, but Colombia star James Rodriguez remains a doubt.

The Bayern Munich midfielder limped off with a calf problem during the first half of Colombia's 1-0 win over Senegal but Pekerman said the injury was not serious.

Radamel Falcao will pose another threat to England's defence. The striker is back on top form at Monaco after two dismal years at Manchester United and Chelsea.

In the other game on the final day of the round of 16, Switzerland meet Sweden in Saint Petersburg, looking to become the first Swiss team in 64 years to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals.

Sweden are counting on their collective spirit to carry them through after playing their part in sending defending champions Germany home early by topping Group F with victories over South Korea and Mexico.

- Belgium set up Brazil tie -

Belgium set up a quarter-final against Brazil on Monday after Nacer Chadli grabbed a dramatic late winner, with the match poised to go into extra-time.

Goals from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini cancelled out efforts from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui and as the seconds ticked down, Belgium poured forward, with Chadli slotting home.

"No negatives today, it was about getting through," said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez. "It is a day to be very proud of these players. Keep believing in Belgium."

Brazil cruised into the quarter-finals as goals from Neymar and substitute Roberto Firmino gave them a 2-0 victory over Mexico.

Neymar was criticised for his early performances in Russia as he eased his way back to fitness after a broken foot bone, but he is edging back to his best as the five-time winners move through the gears.

Brazil are not yet at their dazzling best but they have an impressive array of firepower, with Neymar supported by Philippe Coutinho and Willian.

And, ominously, Tite's team have now recorded three clean sheets in succession after their opening 1-1 draw against Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Germany coach Joachim Loew is set to remain in charge of the World Cup holders despite overseeing their disastrous performance in Russia where they crashed out in the group phase, reports said Tuesday.

The German Football Association (DFB) has yet to confirm the reports, but Loew has a contract until the 2022 World Cup and the DFB refused to sack him.

But Poland said their coach Adam Nawalka had resigned after they were eliminated.

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Brazil v Mexico: Five-time winners must overcome El Tri persistence to keep World Cup bid alive

Despite a slow start to the tournament Brazil are beginning to look like serious contenders to win the World Cup for a sixth time but a dogged Mexico side who have surpassed expectations so far in Russia stand in their way.

A less-than-impressive 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening game at Russia 2018 suggested that Brazil hadn’t quite exorcised the ghosts from their humiliating exit at the semi-final stage four years ago when the hosts capitulated to Germany on home soil but two successive 2-0 wins, achieved against Costa Rica and Serbia, suggests that Brazil coach Tite is close to having his side fire on all cylinders.

Mexico, meanwhile, began their World Cup campaign with an impressive 1-0 reverse of Germany and followed that up with another win against South Korea. The 3-0 defeat which followed against Sweden in their final group game will be a concern for the momentum of Juan Carlos Osorio’s side in advance of the crunch match with one of the tournament’s favourites.

The sheer range of talent that Brazil have at their disposal is enough to cause calamity to any backline they face in Russia this summer. However, the displays from the Brazilian playmaker-in-chief Neymar will be a concern to Brazilian supporters.

The PSG man has appeared over-anxious so far in the World Cup, the massive weight of expectation placed on him by an expectant public seems to have robbed him of the carefree creativity which exists when he is at his effervescent best.

Mexico, on the other hand, appear to be far more than the sum of their parts. Javier Hernandez will be a constant threat up front, while Hirving Lozano in another who has enhanced his reputation with a series of stellar performances so far at Russia 2018.

The absence of central defender Hector Moreno, one of the team’s primary defensive stalwarts, will hit Mexico hard, particularly if they attempt to harry and press Brazil high up the pitch, a tactic which has proven effective for them so far in Russia but can leave unoccupied space in front of Guillermo Ochoa’s goal.

A likely quarter final encounter with Belgium, should they overcome Japan in their round of 16 clash, is the prize which awaits the winner of Monday’s tie in the Samara Arena.

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Schmeichel: Akinfeev deserves a statue

Peter Schmeichel says Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev “deserves a statue” in his honor after he produced a stunning penalty shootout display to help Russia beat Spain and qualify for the World Cup quarter-final.

Akinfeev made an incredible stop to deny Spain’s Iago Aspas – the Russian ‘keeper’s second save of the shootout – to help Russia clinch a 4-3 win on penalties at Luzhniki and send the hosts into the quarter-finals.

Russian skipper Akinfeev’s heroics came after the teams could not be separated at 1-1 for the 90 minutes and extra time. Sergei Ignashevich’s own goal had given Spain the lead on 14 minutes, while Artem Dzyuba’s penalty equalized for the hosts just before half time.

Spain dominated possession in Moscow but Russia held firm, setting the stage for Akinfeev’s stunning display in the shootout, when he first denied Koke and then saved from Aspas, diving to his right and sticking out a leg to divert the ball away from goal.

Goalkeeping great Schmeichel – who during a glittering career won the European Championship with Denmark and Champions League with Manchester United – was full of praise for Akinfeev.

“He had this kind of game, he was fantastic, he dealt with what Spain created,” Schmeichel said.  

He had predicted that once the game went to penalties, Akinfeev would emerge as the key protagonist, saying: “We know he has this reputation as being a good penalty saver.”

Spain had fully 75 percent of possession in the game, making 800 more passes than Russian as they attempted to break the deadlock during normal time and extra time – but to little effect.

Schmeichel said that while the Russian performance in frustrating Spain had not always been easy on the eye, it had been effective and had played to the team’s strengths.

“It wasn’t pretty, but it was gritty, and sometimes football matches are won like that,” Schmeichel said.

“The Russian players fought and fought and fought and never gave up.”

The former Denmark great said he had sensed the nerves from Spain captain Sergio Ramos as they held the toss for the shootout.

“You could hear Ramos sounded nervous… you could sense the nerves…,” he said.

Although Ramos stepped up to fire his spot-kick home, as did Andres Iniesta, teammates Koke and Aspas saw their kicks saved by an inspired Akinfeev.

Schmeichel said the 32-year-old ‘keeper’s actions in sending his team into the last eight could be honored with a statue.

“We see statues of the heroes all around Russia… Akinfeev deserves a statue after today,” Schmeichel said.       

In a land that gave the world arguably the finest 'keeper ever in Lev Yashin, few would now argue if a monument to Akinfeev took pride of place on one of the nation's streets.

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