Football moved another step closer to home as England breezed past Sweden with a 2-0 win in Samara. Through to their first World Cup semi-final since Italy 1990, the Three Lions are daring to dream. Having already outshone the ‘golden generation’ of a decade ago, this young bunch of upstarts will now be aiming to write their name in their nation’s footballing folklore by replicating the greats of 1966.
Sweden, one of the tightest defences at these finals, continued with their old fashioned 4-4-2 but made a couple of changes from the 1-0 win over Switzerland. Emil Krafth, the full back who had already ruffled a few feathers in the opposition camp by calling out Ashley Young over his diving antics, and Sebastian Larsson, who has spent his entire professional career in England, were brought in. Gareth Southgate’s team was predictably unchanged.
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) July 7, 2018
The game began in dull fashion, Harry Kane’s tame effort the only moment of note in the first twenty minutes. Sweden kept their shape with two banks of four, making it tough for England to find fluidity, but it didn’t matter. They took the familiar route to goal when Harry Maguire’s towering header from the corner put them in front on the half hour. Having seen their airtight backline breached, the onus fell on the Swedes to take the game to the opposition. Sterling began to run in behind as their defence pushed up and should’ve put his team further ahead just before the break. Caught offside just moments previously, Sterling latched onto Henderson’s long ball forward but failed to convert when he really should have. As things stood, England were right where they wanted to be at halftime.
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Janne Andersson’s men wasted no time getting on the front foot in the second half, creating their best chance of the game within a minute. Marcus Berg, still searching for his first goal of the tournament, climbed over Ashley Young to direct his header goalwards. Jordan Pickford picked up where he left off against Colombia and parried the ball away from his goal with a sharp lunge to his left. England weathered this early storm and settled into possession much like the first half.
That possession paid off when England doubled their lead. Another header – this time from Dele Alli getting on the end of Jesse Lingard’s pinpoint cross after a prolonged spell where they continually switched the play from left to right, almost hypnotising the Swedes into losing their concentration.
Reeling from this second blow, the Vikings continued to nevertheless test Pickford, but he always had the answer. Marcus Berg was again denied spectacularly, as was Viktor Claesson. It was easy to see why Sweden were the lowest scoring team remaining, and the prospect of squaring up against a seemingly unbeatable Pickford was simply too much for them as they folded soon after.
— England (@England) July 7, 2018
Is this it then? After years of underachievement and mockery, could England finally get their hands on the grand prize? It seems only fitting for them to go all the way with the odds so long and the chances so slim. Lying in wait for the winner of the second semi-final between Croatia and Denmark, their collective mouths will be watering. In this World Cup, nothing is a safe bet. We seem to be living in a parallel existence, where anything can happen. And that includes football coming home.