The Three Lions were not “bowed by the pressure of the past,” said Gareth Southgate as England reached overcame Colombia on penalties for the first time at a World Cup. “They write their own stories,” the boss explained.
Eric Dier netted the winning kick as elation engulfed the players, who sprinted off to celebrate their first quarter-final in 12 years with the midfielder and hero of the shootout Jordan Pickford. Sweden, by contrast, reached the last eight in a more subdued manner, surviving a late bout of pressure to see off the Swiss threat.
“We have underestimated [Sweden] for years,” Southgate continued, and it’s important England don’t fall into the same trap of arrogance, as the Three Lions haven’t beaten the Swedes since a 3-2 win at Euro 2012.
In fact, of the 20 games played between the two nations in the last 70 years, England have only won four, going winless against them from 1968 to 2011. History suggests this encounter will be tricky.
Last Time Out
Sweden 1-0 Switzerland
In a game characterised by poor finishing, Emil Forsberg fired Sweden into their first World Cup quarter-final since 1994, winning back-to-back World Cup matches in the process for the first time since 1958.
The RB Leipzig playmaker became the hero of the last-16 when his shot deflected off the hapless Manuel Akanji and left Switzerland ‘keeper Yann Sommer stranded. Both sides, however, were guilty of profligacy with Swiss forward Steven Zuber heading wide and Blerim Dzemaili missing from 16 yards out.
Switzerland ultimately ended the game with ten men after Michael Lang was sent off in injury time for dragging down Martin Olsson when clean through on goal.
The resulting free-kick – awarded after a VAR review overturned the initial decision to award a penalty – was missed, but it was inconsequential as Sweden reached their first quarter-final in 24 years.
Colombia 1-1 England [England win 4-3 on penalties]
England won their first-ever World Cup penalty shootout to reach a quarter-final tie with Sweden on Saturday afternoon.
Eric Dier scored the winning spot-kick after Mateus Uribe cannoned his shot off the bar, before Jordan Pickford made a fantastic one-handed save to deny Carlos Bacca to save Jordan Henderson – whose penalty was saved by David Ospina – from embarrassment.
During a tense and nervy affair in which tempers flared and fouls were the order of the day, Harry Kane put the Three Lions ahead from the spot – his sixth goal from six shots on target – following a blatant foul from Carlos Sanchez.
England looked to have emerged victorious in normal time when Pickford spectacularly saved Uribe’s 30-yard pile-driver in injury time, only for Yerry Mina to head his third goal in three consecutive World Cup games from the resulting corner.
Extra time ensued, with England reaching their first quarter-final since 2006 after a goalless 30 minutes and penalties.
Celtic right back Mikael Lustig is suspended for the quarter-final, but he’s the only player to miss out in an otherwise unchanged XI. Set piece specialist Seb Larsson could come in for Jonas Svensson.
After completing two hours of football against Colombia, questions will be raised over the fitness of England’s starters from the last-16.
Dele Alli could miss out due to thigh problem that confined him to the sidelines against Panama and Belgium, whilst Ashley Young is also suffering from an ankle injury sustained against Colombia. This will see Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Danny Rose come into the starting XI.
Kyle Walker also seemed to struggle with cramp, and Jamie Vardy picked up a groin issue which prevented him from taking a penalty.
Key Battle: Andreas Granqvist (Sweden) vs Harry Maguire (England)
In terms of Sweden, captain Andreas Granqvist is arguably their most important player. A stalwart at the back, the 33-year-old no longer has the legs to match the speed of Raheem Sterling, for example, but he relies on positional experience to ensure he’s never in a situation where he must use speed to recover.
Granqvist will his hands full against Harry Kane, whilst Harry Maguire, too, will be important in negating the physical presences of both Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen. With two strikers against three centre-backs, however, there’s less individual pressure on Maguire than there is on Granqvist.
Sweden’s captain, moreover, is competing with John Stones to become the highest-scoring defender at the World Cup, with two goals from the spot, and he’ll be relied on once more if Sweden happen to win a spot-kick or the game requires a shootout.
The same can be said for Maguire, who is England’s primary target from set pieces and a handful for defenders at six foot four. With the game perhaps reliant on set pieces for separation, both will be key.
Going route one
Sweden average the least possession of any team left in the World Cup and they only retained the ball 33% of the time against the Swiss, though this matters little when you’re winning consecutive World Cup games.
Caring little for possession, when Sweden do get the ball they often go direct to their two towering strikers – Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen – in the hope of challenging for the second balls in the box.
In doing so, they leave one of their midfielders lurking at the edge of the area, looking to pick up loose balls or act as a target for cutbacks if Sweden work the ball out wide.
This is how they scored against Switzerland – with Toivonen cutting back to Forsberg, for his first World Cup goal in 14 shots at the tournament. England, therefore, need to watch out for players drifting in space at the edge of the box, particularly Forsberg.
A game of moments
With Sweden setting up camp in their own half, sitting deep and reducing space in their defensive third, this game promises to be cagey.
England have previously struggled to break down teams that sit deep on them, whilst they’ve only scored legitimate goal from open play – Jesse Lingard against Panama – which was scored from outside of the box. The rest have come from either set pieces or penalties, which gives them greater significance against Sweden.
The Three Lions boast Kieran Trippier, who has created the most chances of any Englishman, whilst Seb Larsson, despite his ageing legs, is still a daunting prospect from dead ball situations, with tall strikers Berg and Toivonen a threat in the air.
The result, therefore, will likely come down to one key moment deriving from a set piece or penalty.
Prediction: Sweden 0-1 England
Set to be an extremely cagey affair in which England will struggle to break the Swedes down, this game will come down to a set piece or penalty to separate the sides, if at all in normal time.
Having previously underestimated their opponents before, the Three Lions cannot succumb to their own arrogance at this point and must pay Sweden due respect to progress to the semi-final.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from England’s penalty win over Colombia in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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