SEMIS FOR SOUTHGATE’S EXCITING ENGLAND
England are World Cup semi-finalists for the first time since 1990. Harry Maguire and Dele Alli secured England’s fate with the goals that saw off Sweden.
Despite the knocks and strains gathered against Colombia, Gareth Southgate named an identical eleven to the one that saw off the South Americans in such dramatic style on Tuesday. Sweden had to do without suspended defender Mikael Lustig. But former Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson came through his, and returned.
The opening exchanges of the penultimate quarter-final were tense and accident-prone. Sweden’s Viktor Claesson was the player to try his luck first, firing over from range on twelve minutes. Five minutes later, with almost twenty gone, England finally got their act together. As Raheem Sterling carried the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, Harry Kane took the ball off him and stung a low shot just wide of Robin Olsen’s far post.
Kieran Trippier, just as his team, was growing into the game. A mean cross – not his first – earned England a corner on half-an-hour. Ashley Young went over to take it, and put in an identical ball to that that created England’s very first World Cup goal, against Tunisia, three weeks ago. England’s so-called love-train formed once more. Leaping highest was The Three Lions’ very own man-mountain, Harry Maguire. England’s ball-playing centre-back bulleted a header low past Olsen and into an unguarded net. England, in red once more, turned away in celebration of their first World Cup quarter-final goal since Michael Owen’s against Brazil in 2002.
Raheem Sterling was again unable to score his first England goal since 2015 as he went one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The forward was so sure that he was offside he looked to the linesman instead of finding the net. When he did eventually shoot, Olsen saved well and the flag was belatedly lifted. The same happened again from a wonderful Jordan Henderson ball later on, but this time the Manchester City man wasn’t offside, and really should have been more clinical. A wasted corner was all that England could conjure up in the final few minutes of the half. At the break, England had been well on top but with only one goal to show for their efforts.
The midway whistle had come at just the wrong time for England. Sweden had a clear chance for an equaliser with less than two minutes gone, as Marcus Berg took advantage of an aerial mismatch to header excellently towards goal. Jordan Pickford dived intently and pushed the header away for a magnificent save. Gareth Southgate’s men finally awoke from their dormant state as they put forward a few decent attacks on the Swedish defence. A brewing England attack on fifty-seven minutes led to The Three Lions’ crucial second goal. Wide man Kieran Trippier found Jesse Lingard, unmarked, outside the box. With eager attackers queueing up in the box, Lingard played a delightful first-time cross into the danger area. The ball flew over Harry Kane and Sterling, before Tottenham’s Dele Alli put his international goal-drought to bed with a fantastic header for 2-0. The Three Lions had deservedly doubled their lead, but still had a long way to go in this one.
Viktor Claesson then forced Pickford into yet another remarkable stop, as the Everton keeper got down well to stop a firm, passed effort on goal. Jordan Henderson blocked the follow-up excellently, and a huge cheer boomed around the stadium as England defended and cleared a menacing attack expertly.
Harry Maguire looked distinctly more like a defender as he volleyed well over from a poorly-defended England set-piece; Gareth Southgate’s men were controlling a World Cup quarter-final. But Jordan Pickford was needed to make his third stunning save of the match moments later, as Berg volleyed goalwards on the turn.
Eric Dier, Marcus Rashford and a returning Fabian Delph were all given chances from the bench, as England closed out their victory. After five minutes of stoppage-time were complete, referee Björn Kuipers blew his whistle for the final time in Samara. History has now been made. Described as one of the weakest ever, this England squad are now World Cup semi-finalists. Here they will meet Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday. The Three Lions will have played seven games in this World Cup no matter what happens from here, because England beat Sweden 2-0 in a scorching Samara.