England’s Lions roar to the Semi Finals with victory over limp Sweden

Josh Bartholomew

Headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli ensured England will play in their first World Cup semi-final since 1990.

England now face a semi-final on Wednesday against Croatia or Russia, but the palpable dream of another World Cup trophy moves ever closer given the toppling of football’s traditional powerhouses over the course of the tournament so far.

Southgate opted for an unchanged line up, and he will be delighted by how his men coped with the combination of a short turnaround and the extraordinarily gruelling Round of 16 game against Colombia on Tuesday.

England’s aptitude from set-pieces has been a recurring theme throughout the tournament, and Harry Maguire’s header on the half-hour mark was further reward for a coaching team that has made a conscious effort to improve from dead ball situations;  specifically Allan Russell, England’s attack coach, who has been widely credited for England’s new found set-piece quality.

England celebrate their 1-0 lead

Maguire’s goal was the catalyst England needed to get into their stride, and on the stroke of half-time Raheem Sterling went close to doubling his side’s lead, only to spend too long over his finish, eventually forcing a corner.

Southgate would’ve rued the timing of the interval; his team had threatened the Swedish goal multiple times in the latter stages of the half, as a result of Sterling’s brilliant willingness to run beyond the defence, coupled with a tangible fear throughout the Swedish team whenever Tripper and Young prepared to take corners.

England were tentative as the second half began, and Marcus Berg was able to force an early save from Jordan Pickford.

Dele Alli had been maligned in some areas of the press after an ineffective return from injury against Colombia, but it was he who banished his critics as he headed the ball home from a sumptuous Jesse Lingard cross. Southgate let his cool glaze go for a second, as he jumped into his assistant’s arms to celebrate his side’s 2-0 lead.

But Pickford had to save brilliantly once more just minutes later as England flooded forward to kill the game. It would only serve as a reminder of Sweden’s attacking prowess.

It was telling that Swedish coach Janne Anderson opted to replace Emil Forsberg on 65 minutes, despite the RB Leipzig forward’s reputation as his team’s primary threat going forward.

England’s attackers began to play with verve and valour as Sweden flooded forward, and Sterling continued his stellar showing in becoming the focal point as his team attacked.

Pickford again had to rescue England in saving from Berg, but despite a couple of chances for Sweden, the Three Lions were never truly threatened. Southgate was even able to replace the brilliant Dele Alli, as new father Fabian Delph entered the fray.

Pickford celebrates a late save to ensure England’s place in the semi-finals

England’s defensive display was encouraging, and in truth Sweden did little to trouble them. A first clean sheet was just reward for a solid display at the back from Walker, Stones and Maguire.

There were a number of positives for Southgate, namely the improvements in open-play from his attackers, spurred on by the revived Sterling.

Dele Alli’s second half showing was extremely impressive, and must now dispel any talk of Ruben Loftus Cheek coming in for the semi-final.

The proposition of Croatia or Russia in the next round should not faze England or Southgate – Russia lack quality, while Croatia look flimsy in defence and ineffective going forward. Whatever happens in Moscow on Wednesday night, it is a remarkable achievement for a team who would justifiably have been happy with a quarter-final finish.

It seems fitting that the most vibrant and affable squad in recent years are now just the third England team to ever reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, and for a side to win get their hands on the trophy, they generally have a strong team-spirit, and build momentum as the tournament continues, all of which Southgate has set England up to do.

Surely now it’s time to actually think about football *possibly* coming home.

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