England march into World Cup semi-finals
Gareth Southgate’s side reach first semi-final since 1990 with 2-0 win over Sweden
Whether football is coming “home” might remain a little less certain than the fans like to suggest in song but as Gareth Southgate’s side became the first from England to make it as far as a World Cup semi-final since 1990, they are, at least, going to Moscow with one less obstacle now standing between them and the title. Those of a nervous disposition might want to start looking away now.
Goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli were enough to see them safely past Sweden in Samara although there were a couple of others who deserved at least an equal share of the credit. Jordan Pickford, for a start, made three second half saves to be proud of and Jordan Henderson looked pretty commanding as he directed operations while sitting in the middle of a midfield five.
The 28 year-old will surely be tested a little more severely than he was here in the event that do actually make the decider. But on this occasion he was hungry to get on the ball and, when allowed time and space in which to weigh up options and pick out passes, the Liverpool midfielder kept England moving rather nicely against opponents who initially settled for trying to catch them with quick breaks then had to try to push things on a bit more when chasing first a one then a two goal deficit.
Sweden’s problems began when Maguire put the English in front with the sort of set piece conversion that must have formed a fairly central part in Sweden’s own pre-match planning. Jesse Lingard looked, it seemed, for Ashley Young to take his corner short but instead he took an age to tee it up before floating it perfectly into the centre of the area where the defender proved far too strong for his marker, Emil Forsberg.
The Swedes looked reasonably solid for the most part both before and after the setback yet susceptible to a quick counter themselves, And while a first chance was belatedly flagged for offside, Robin Olsen did really well to prevent Raheem Sterling scoring on either of the occasions he was released into the area in the dying moments of the first half.
In the first instance the goalkeeper stood up well and Sterling simply wasn’t quick witted enough to sidestep him but in the second, the 28-year-old Swede made an exceptional intervention at the striker’s feet at he tried to round him and Andreas Granqvist got back to block the follow up effort.
Janne Andersson’s side managed nothing so clear cut over the course of the first 45 minutes with both Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg having to drop deep in order to pick up possession and rarely managing, once they had it, to get beyond England’s solid looking three man defence.
Maguire looked particularly impressive with the Leicester City defender to the forefront of his side’s effort to keep a lid on things as the Swedes sought to push the ball long into the area or the space around it. By the break, the best they had managed was a long range effort by Viktor Claesson that flew harmlessly high and wide and after it, it was clear, they were going to have to be a little more adventurous.
Though not especially well equipped for the task, they gave it a go and Berg forced the first of those saves from Pickford before Claesson then Berg again had shots well stopped. By the time of those last two, however, they were further behind having fallen victim to a rare defensive lapse when, under some pressure following another corner, Alli rather easily lost Emil Krafth and stole the yard of space he needed at the far post to head Lingard’s cross home unchallenged.
Had Sweden managed to get even one goal back there might have been some tiny hint of the drama that Brazil and Belgium generated on Friday night. But they had nothing like the attacking quality of the South Americans and so England weren’t made to man the ramparts in the sort of way that Roberto Martinez’s side had been.
In the end they looked tired as they bowed out to an England side that moves another step forward without being really made to establish their credentials. Southgate, though, will have no complaints; having been able to start an unchanged side here, he and his players should be in good shape for the semi.
England’s train is, in seems, in the station but it will be a little while longer before we know for sure if they have a ticket to ride.
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli (Delph, 75 mins), Henderson (Dier, 85 mins), Lingard, Young; Sterling (Rashford, 90+1), Kane.
Sweden: Olsen; Krafth (Jansson, 85 mins), Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson, Ekdal, Forsberg (Olsson, 65 mins); Berg, Toivonen (Guidetti, 65 mins).
Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands).