England manager Gareth Southgate selected an unchanged starting XI from that which began against Colombia on Tuesday night. This proved to be an astute selection as England defeated Sweden to secure passage to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.
The men in yellow kicked off at 3pm UK time, and a tense and cagey opening 10 minutes ensued with neither side managing to dominate possession or display any real attacking threat. This Swedish side were always going to be comfortable without the ball though, and have built their game, and success so far, upon a system of sitting deep and soaking up pressure before breaking fast on the counter.
Twenty minutes in, England’s captain, Harry Kane, dragged wide from distance following some good running by Raheem Sterling. This was England’s first meaningful effort and it failed to test Olsen, the Swedish shot-stopper.
The breakthrough did come, as it so often has for England at this World Cup, from a set piece. A delightful Ashley Young corner was met with a crashing header from Leicester City centre-back Harry Maguire, who directed the ball into the bottom corner. The Three Lions went ahead on the half hour mark.
Some good pressing from the England front line caused one or two nervy moments at the back for Sweden, but the next chance in the game didn’t come until the stroke of half-time, and it fell for the men in red.
Jordan Henderson put Sterling in behind the defence with a lofted ball and the Manchester City man attempted to round the goalkeeper, but Olsen got a vital hand to it. Sterling retained possession but was crowded out and his shot was blocked. The half-time whistle sounded moments later.
Sweden began the second half brightly, with Pickford immediately called into action by making a great save down low from a Marcus Berg header.
After a period of sustained pressure, England made it 2-0 in the 58th minute and put one foot into a World Cup semi-final. Lingard flighted a clever ball into the box and Tottenham man Dele Alli met it with his head from close range.
Sweden sought to hit back quickly and worked the ball into the England box well before getting a shot off. Once again Pickford was equal to their effort on goal, diving down to his right to pull off the stop. Henderson got across to block Claesson’s follow up shot before England scrambled it clear.
The game then began to open up and it wasn’t long before Pickford was called upon to make his third vital intervention of the second half. The Everton man was on hand to tip over from Berg and maintain his clean sheet.
Sweden got their next, and final, sight of goal in the last minute of the 90 when they were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position. Augustinsson blazed the set piece over and minutes later the final whistle rang out in Samara.
England are heading for a World Cup semi-final, their first since 1990, and football remains, potentially, still very much on its way home.
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