- One of the reasons England are in the last four is their ruthlessness at set plays.
- Maguire, John Stones and Harry Kane have proved handfuls for many an opponent in free-kick and corner situations, Croatia will have to be wary
It will be interesting to observe what the Fifa technical report says regarding the science of scoring with the head after the 2018 Russia World Cup concludes.
The tournament has witnessed a number of headed goals and with four more games to play, there is every reason to believe that we have not seen the last of headers sailing into the net.
In the Friday and Saturday quarter finals for instance, there was a total of eleven goals scored but only three not headers.
The rest were all goals came from the head, an important reminder that the old school way taking away your chances will never lose its place in the beautiful game.
On Saturday, England’s Harry Maguire and Dele Alli powered home to headers to dump Sweden out of the World Cup.
Later in the night, three of the four strikes in Russia’s 2-2 draw with Croatia were goals off the head – Domago Vida, Mario Fernandez and Andrej Kramaric.
A day earlier, Raphael Varane set the tone for France when he brilliantly brushed home to give Les Bleus the lead against Uruguay. The game ended 2-0.
Still on Friday, Belgium capitalised on a defensive mix-up involving Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho to brush home and unfortunate own goal and later in the game needed a majestic Renato Augusto save to dream of a Brazil comeback. One of the reasons England are in the last four is simply their ruthlessness at set plays. Maguire, John Stones and Harry Kane have proved handfuls for many an opponent in free-kick and corner situations and Croatia will have to be wary.
For the umpteenth time, the old debate on man marking vs zonal marking will creep in again some scandalous headers.
A case in point is the Fernandez header for Russia against Croatia when the former rose unchallenged in the second half of extra time to direct home a crucial goal.
The best coaches in the game leaving no detail untouched and they no doubt will have spent a considerable amount of time studying their opponent with the players and figuring out how not to defend in similar situations.
Augusto’s header against Belgium for 2-1 is up there with the very best headers of the competition considering how he had to change the direction of the ball, generate power and then get knock it way past Thibaut.
You could possibly make mention of the Colombia centre back Yerry Mina who scored three World Cup goals, all of the headers.
While England have traditionally been seen as gate-crashers of the World Cup with their well-documented aerial prowess, the most imposing side on set plays are the Belgians.
With six footers like Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini, and Alex Witsel, defending Roberto Martinez’s side is a nightmarish assignment.
As Japan cruelly found out in the second round, it is practically impossible to stop Belgium from winning corners and free-kicks.
France’s is next in the deep end in St Petersburg.
*The writer is Monitor Publications Sports Editor