With a masterful display from the Three Lions on Saturday, England’s World Cup dreams come that little bit closer to reality with a emphatic 2-0 victory over Sweden.
The naysayers will say it was ‘only Sweden’, the big guns were eliminated earlier on the tournament and we benefited from the luck of the draw in the early stages, but I’m struggling to care about that when England is in the World Cup semi-final for the first time since before much of the squad that’s inspired the nation so far were even born.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 7, 2018
The goalless opening half an hour belied the good form that England would settle into in the games final two-thirds. Sweden isn’t a team England have a dominant history with, losing or drawing more games than they’ve won, and manager Gareth Southgate acknowledged the challenge they would face after England’s penalty victory over Colombia.
But as they settled into a groove of tightly rehearsed set pieces and intelligent ball and player positioning, it paid off with a goal from a corner by Harry Maguire in the 30th minute. Ashley Young curled it across, with the Leicester man getting above his marker and connecting with a powerful header to send it sailing past the goalkeeper.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) July 8, 2018
Boosted in confidence, the sense of fun seen in England’s earlier games against Tunisia and Panama returned, and they dominated the pitch with clever passes and long balls, creating a number of opportunities. A few flutters of doubt may have appeared as chances were missed and the ball was lost to Sweden, but with the first of a hat-trick of daring finger tip saves from Jordan Pickford, fears about England’s defensive capabilities were quickly allayed.
Spurs own Dele Alli made it 2-0 after the break with another header in the 59th minute. Arriving through half the England midfield, Trippier crossed it to Lingard who crossed it deep to Alli who drifted away from his marker to find the back of the net with a clinical header.
— COYS.com (@COYS_com) July 9, 2018
Hampered by injury from the beginning of the tournament, Alli has yet to be able to produce a moment of magic at this tournament, so we’re very happy to see one of our own get his moment in the spotlight.
The rest of the game passed without major incident, except for a dicey moment where Sweden had the opportunity to pull one back, but the immovable wall of Jordan Pickford bumped it over the cross bar. And with that, Sweden are out and the England campaign rolls on to the semi finals where they will face Croatia after their victory over Russia.
What can the team learn from this?
It may be blasphemy, on this site of all sites, but the fact that Harry Kane didn’t score in this game should be a huge boost to the squad. Kane’s prodigious goal scoring ability is undoubtedly one of the teams biggest assets, but the fact that chances can still be capitalised on and the powerful, dominant and intelligent football that has defined England’s campaign so far can still be played without the magic feet of captain Kane puts the squad in good stead for the final few matches of the tournament. Gareth Southgate said after the match;
“We knew it was going to be such a different game after having extra time and penalties against Colombia, with all the emotion and the energy…We had to withstand a lot of physical pressure but the resilience of the team was crucial. We knew we would have the majority of the ball and it was a case of breaking them down because Sweden are a really well organised team. Over the years we have underestimated them.” (BBC)
What’s next for England?
Following Russia’s defeat later on Saturday afternoon, England will be facing Croatia on Wednesday 11th July in the semi-finals. And then, if all goes to plan, they will face either Belgium or France in the final after their semi-final face-off on the 12th.
PS. It’s Coming Home