They’ve done it! England have made it to the last 4 of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years and football might just be coming home. Four weeks ago few saw England getting this far in Russia, few fans decorated their cars and homes in St Georges flags as cautious optimism became the national watch words, cautious optimism has now been usurped by another 3 words: It’s Coming Home.
Sweden who had beaten out Italy, Mexico, Switzerland and pushed Germany to the 95th minute were expected to provide a tough test- historically they always have but not this time. Unlike England’s previous games that began with a barrage of pressing this time England began cautiously as both sides made tentative steps to push forward with the best chance coming when Raheem Sterling burst through and played in Harry Kane on the edge of the box but Kane pushed his effort wide.
But after 20 minutes of shadow boxing England went on the offensive with Kieran Tripper leading the charge down the right and forcing a corner from which Ashley Young whipped in a cross for Harry Maguire to head home 1-0 after 30 minutes. Minutes later Sterling was played in by Dele Alli but was eventually flagged offside. Sterling’s pace and close control were causing Sweden problems but his poor finishing was again evident when Henderson pinged a ball through to him only for the misfiring striker to be halted by ‘keeper Robin Olsen and then get caught in two minds on the rebound, it stayed 1-0 for half time.
The second half started with anticipation of a Swedish comeback as England have historically found in this fixture having taken the early lead. And Sweden threatened a quick recovery when just 70 seconds into the second half a dangerous cross found Marcus Berg whose bullet header was just kept out by Pickford. But the expected Swedish storm turned out to be mild drizzle and it was England who pushed forward in earnest with Maguire causing problems in the air yet again from a set piece. And with Sweden on the backfoot a neat passing move started by Young & Henderson found its way to Trippier whose short ball found Lingard on the edge of the box who floated in a perfect cross for Alli to glance home for 2-0.
Sweden had to gamble and through players forward and Viktor Claesson forced another acrobatic save from Pickford to preserve the two goal lead. Berg then got another chance when his shot on the turn forced a third great save from Pickford. But it was the last real chance the Swedes created and England were comfortable with the likes of Henderson & Alli withdrawn. England were coasting and the closing stages produced few alarms as England fans started to party in Samara as the referee blew for full-time.
England have now equalled their best ever run at a World Cup held outside their own country and it with achieved with none of the drama and histrionics of that previous quarter-final win over Cameroon or the penalty drama of the Euro ’96 win over Spain. England now get ready to face Croatia with a place in football’s biggest game on the line, truly astounding turn around from 2 summers ago and now it might just might be coming home!
Pickford 9- It’s strange that in a game England dominated the man of the match was the goalkeeper. But Pickford made 3 world-class saves, the first at a pivotal moment in the match and started England’s attacks with his excellent distribution.
Walker 7- Calm and assured throughout in a largely uneventful afternoon.
Stones 8- Swept up nicely and helped keep Sweden’s aerial threat quiet.
Maguire 8- Growing into a defensive leader and his threat from set pieces finally saw him bag his first England goal. It’s a measure of how far he’s come that a month ago most thought Gary Cahill would replace him when faced with better opposition than Panama.
Trippier 8- The best right-back at the World Cup, his delivery from the right has been deadly throughout.
Henderson 8- Screened the defence with assurance and started the ball rolling with a series of smart passes to move the team forward.
Alli 7- Started nervously but looks to be getting back to his best and scored a trademark goal. A certainty to retain his start against Croatia.
Young 7- Brilliant cross for Maguire’s goal and a nice nutmeg as England pressed for the second. Few would have predicted him even been the squad a year ago but now a vital cog.
Lingard 7- Busy as ever as he hounded Sweden’s midfield and a perfect ball in for Alli’s goal.
Sterling 7- His pace and control can unlock a defence but his finishing can let one-off the hook. Nowhere near the disaster his detractors would claim but desperately needs a goal.
Kane- 7- Finally doesn’t score in a World Cup match but his hold up play was outstanding and a constant threat from set plays. Has a 2 goal lead in the golden boot race with 2 games to play!
Dier 6- Some neat touches and added some ballast to the midfield as Sweden got desperate late in the game.
Delph 6- A calming presence as England saw out the win.
Rahsford 5– Little time to make an impact