England advanced to their first World Cup semi-final since 1990 with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Sweden in Samara, thanks to goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.
Maguire turned England’s early dominance of possession into pressure on the scoreboard when he plundered into the box to thunder a header past Robin Olsen and into the back of the net for his first international goal.
Jordan Pickford made a crucial save to deny Marcus Berg, springing to his left to stop the big Swede’s powerful back post header to keep England ahead.
Alli then made it two in the 59th minute, finishing off some patient build-up play by the Three Lions as he headed home from Jesse Lingard’s floated cross.
Sweden continued to probe the England defence and searched for a route back into the game, but the back three held firm in front of Pickford to earn the victory and a place among the last four.
Set-pieces continue to bear fruit
Maguire’s header made it seven goals for England at this World Cup that have come either directly from, or in the aftermath of a set-piece, which includes the two penalties awarded to the Three Lions for fouls during the delivery of a corner.
In the modern day game of tiki-taka passing, high octane attacking football, counter-attacking and counter-pressing, set-pieces and good, direct deliveries into the box are a very underrated way to score goals and win football matches, and England have done it to great effect during this tournament.
Not only visible via those from which they have scored, but almost every delivery that came into the Sweden box saw the Blagult tied up in knots at the back, frantically attempting to scramble the ball away from danger.
With superb deliverers of a ball in Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young and the height of the likes of Harry Kane, Maguire and John Stones, Gareth Southgate has the tools available him to make set-pieces an asset for his side, and he has evidently worked to utilise this threat.
The quality the England team has with the ball at their feet in open play means that there is not a reliance on set-pieces to provide goals, but that it is an extra dimension that Southgate can exploit in the latter stages of the tournament.
Sterling continues to struggle, Pickford on fire
After his best season yet in senior football, Raheem Sterling has failed to transport his form with Manchester City during the domestic season into his plight in the white of the Three Lions.
Unfortunately for him, it seemed that he could do nothing right in the final third, missing a number of chances to score himself and failing to execute passes to his teammates.
Frustration continued to build in the youngster, and as the game wore on he began to try too hard, holding onto the ball for too long and looking to rectify his previous mistakes all on his own.
At just 23-years of age, Sterling has multiple World Cup’s ahead of him and will only improve with experience, and this poor run of matches will serve him well in developing as a footballer on the international scene.
At the other end of the pitch, Pickford continues to grow in confidence and stature as the tournament wears on and has become instrumental.
His save from Berg in the opening minutes of the second half proved to be vital, as without that stop, the score reads 1-1 and anything could have happened from then on.
Two other goal saving interventions kept Sweden at bay and allowed the Three Lions the breathing space they needed to continue their expansive attacking style of play – keeping the pressure on the Swede’s going back the other way.
Off the back of his heroics against Colombia, the Everton custodian has cemented himself as a key member of England’s push for World Cup glory, and his current form can only mean good things for club and country in the future.
Sweden eliminated, but not disheartened
Despite being knocked out of the tournament, Janne Andersson can be immensely proud of what his team has achieved in Russia.
Topping any group in the World Cup is a difficult task, but to finish above powerhouses Germany and sweep aside Mexico as they did is truly admirable.
They played with heart and determination, with the tenacity and passion that makes the World Cup such a spectacular event.
With experienced campaigners such as Andreas Granqvist, Sebastian Larsson and Ola Toivonen, they have done themselves and their country proud with their exploits in Russia, and paves the way for their young hopefuls to follow in their footsteps and become the next generation of Sweden internationals.
Can England win it?
With a first major tournament semi-final since 1996, first in a World Cup since 1990 and a first penalty shootout win in six attempts in the round of 16, the excitement surrounding the England national team is continuing to grow.
They have an excellent manager who is backed by the players, quality in every area of the pitch and a fanatic fan base that are willing to drive the team to success, all the ingredients for success.
Anything is possible in the semi-finals of the World Cup, and indeed in the final should they make it that far, and with the current form they are exhibiting, there is no reason why Southgate cannot guide this England team into the history books and lift the World Cup trophy.