England use their heads to book place in semi-finals
ENGLAND 2 (Maguire 30’, Alli 58’)
By Laurence Kelson
England have made their way to a World Cup semi-final for the first time in 28 years after beating Sweden 2-1 in Samara.
Central defender, Harry Maguire and midfielder, Dele Alli, both scored with headers, bringing the Three Lions one step closer to fulfilling the nation’s World Cup catchcry of “bringing football home”.
Sweden’s lack of attacking potency and an exceptional performance by English keeper, Jordan Pickford, were instrumental in the result.
England’s semi-final opponent is Croatia after it beat host nation Russia in yet another dramatic penalty shootout.
— FIFA World Cup ???? (@FIFAWorldCup) July 7, 2018
The match started as a cagey affair with neither team able to find much rhythm in attack for the first 20 minutes.
England’s young team looked to be overwhelmed by the occasion, with uncharacteristic errors littering their early play.
But as the match wore on England grew into the game and Sweden’s much-vaunted defence started to look vulnerable.
The speed of Raheem Sterling, and his skill with ball at his feet, exposed Sweden’s back four.
Sweden’s lack of speed and ability to threaten on the counter also meant that England were able to play high-up the field without fear of their opponents getting in behind.
England’s sustained pressure with the ball (58 percent possession) finally forced a corner in 30th minute.
Sweden’s defence was too focused on striker Harry Kane to notice an unmarked Maguire who headed Ashley Young’s corner in to the bottom left of Sweden’s goal.
Sweden had a chance to equalise early in the second half, when striker Marcus Berg had a clean header on goal only to be denied by an outstretched Pickford.
Berg now has the unfortunate statistic of most shots on-goal without a score (17) at Russia 2018.
England sounded Sweden’s World Cup death knell in the 58th minute when Jesse Lingard’s perfectly-weighted cross found an unmarked Dele Alli at the back post, who headed home from close range.
England’s defensive strategy of three centre-backs and two full-backs effectively nullified Sweden’s forwards, who only managed three shots on target, and each of those were brilliantly saved by Pickford.
Swedish coach Janne Andersson admitted that they found it hard to attack England.
“It’s difficult to create opportunities…against a five-man defence,” he said.
England may be not be playing free-flowing football like Belgium, but its strategy of dominance in possession and scoring off set pieces is proving to be just as effective.
They play Croatia in their semi-final and will fancy their chances against an opponent that has been drained emotionally and physically after successive penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia.
Shots on goal (on target)
England 12 (2)
Sweden 7 (3)
England: 1 Pickford (GK), 2 Walker, 5 Stones, 6 Maguire, 7 Lingard, 8 Henderson (85’), 9 Kane (C), 10 Sterling (90’+1’), 12 Trippier, 18 Young, 20 Alli (77’)
Substitutes: 3 Rose, 4 Dier (85’), 11 Vardy, 13 Butland (GK), 14 Welbeck, 15 Cahill, 16 Jones, 19 Rashford (90’+1’), 21 Loftus-Cheek, 22 Alexander-Arnold, 23 Pope (GK), 17 Delph (77’)
Sweden: 1 Olsen (GK), 3 Lindelöf, 4 Granqvist (c), 6 Augustinsson, 7 Larsson, 8 Ekdal, 9 Berg, 10 Forsberg, 16 Krafth, 17 Claesson, 20 Toivonen
Substitutes: 2 Lustig, 5 Olsson (65’), 11 Guidetti (65’), 12 Johnsson (GK), 13 Svensson, 14 Helander, 15 Hiljemark, 18 Jansson (85’), 19 Rohden, 21 Durmaz, 22 Thelin, 23 Nordfeldt (GK)