Reuters/CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS
Before a ball was kicked in anger at the World Cup, there were plenty of questions looming over Gareth Southgate and his defensive options.
Gary Cahill and Phil Jones had the experience and big match pedigree for their clubs but had failed to put their stamp on the England team in previous games.
Southgate plumped for a back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire, much to the bewilderment of some. But that decision has been vindicated.
All three have been rock solid and have contributed in the attacking zone too from corners.
Stones and Maguire have all scored important goals from set-pieces and look like threats every team England get a dead ball opportunity.
What a goal
Harry scored again! But not Kane, Maguire.
Yes, England now have two goal-scoring Harry’s at the World cup and Maguire’s effort was just as good as any of Kane’s goals.
A wonderfully worked set piece allowed Maguire the space to head in a thumping effort past Robin Olsen.
The goal calmed England down and allowed them to stamp their authority on the game in a way they had struggled to do prior to the goal.
Maguire’s effort also proved that England are the most dangerous set-piece side at the World Cup.
England had yet to keep a clean sheet prior to their game against Sweden. Tunisia scored a penalty in their first game. Panama scored a soft goal, albeit a pointless one in the 6-1 England win.
Adnan Januzaj curled in a beauty for Belgium in the final group game and against Colombia, England conceded a soft last-minute equaliser.
But against Sweden, England were rock solid. Yes, they relied on Jordan Pickford to make a few exceptional saves. However, they dealt with the threat of Sweden comfortably throughout the majority of the game.
Maguire himself was a juggernaut. He won ten aerial battles against Sweden as he kept their striker Marcus Berg quiet.
His six clearances were the highest on the team as Maguire kept the Sweden attack at bay.
It was the sort of defensive performance that will make his list of suitors grow and prove that Southgate was vindicated in giving the Leicester City man a chance to play at the heart of his defence.
A player who was seen as a weakness before the tournament now looks like one of the teams most important going forward in the competition.
Against Croatia, Maguire will be partnered with Stones and Walker as normal and they will need to be ready to deal with a different kind of prospect.
Sweden lacked a midfielder with quality who can find gaps in the defence with passes. Croatia, on the other hand, are a different proposition with players capable of threading needles.
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will find any spaces that the England defence leaves them and Maguire and Co. will need to be on their game if they are to stop the supply line to Mario Mandzukic.
The back three, and Maguire, in particular, need to find the level of performance that they had against Sweden if England are to keep a clean sheet and progress into the final.
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