The possibility of securing a World Cup semifinal berth should have been enough incentive for the Swedish and English fans to make a beeline for Samara. But Russia’s geographical vastness and other logistical issues ensured the two national sides played in a quarter-empty stadium — though the official figure, at the end, pegged it at just a tenth short of capacity (44,918).
Devoid of popular support, the sides started on a pedestrian note, neither failing to reach the desired intensity or quality that a quarterfinal deserves. In the end, England’s greater professionalism and firepower saw it through as it won only its second competitive game against the Scandinavian nation.
Early on, the Swedes, contended with England enjoying possession, used their numbers in the midfield to slow down play, thus nullifying the threat of pace that England possesses. Raheem Sterling created some panic with his run in the 19th minute but Harry Kane’s wayward finish did no harm.
England, as envisioned, found it hard to unearth its way down the middle and increasingly looked to its two wide men, Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier, to provide the attacking flair.
The team’s luck from set pieces continued as Harry Maguire — lining up behind Kane — outjumped the tall Swedish defence to score the opener from a Young corner as the clock struck the half-hour mark.
But even that goal failed to wake the game from its slumber, as both teams continued to battle like two boxing featherweights (this was no heavyweight fight), with each sizing up the other but in no mood to deliver the final punch.
Sterling came close as he found the Swedish custodian at his mercy after some fine work by Trippier, but failed to beat Robin Olsen, with Victor Lindelof coming to the help of his goalkeeper.
Sweden finally showed some bite with Marcus Berg forcing Jordan Pickford to dive to his right and keep out a bouncing header in the second minute of the final half.
Doubling the lead
Sweden’s need to push men forward opened up the game a little with England benefiting from its opponent’s more attacking intent. Gareth Southgate’s men, now finding space, soon doubled their lead with Dele Alli beating Olsen with a free header as the usually alert Swedish defence failed to spot his run on the far post from a Jesse Lingard cross in the 58th minute.
Sweden had a chance of its own when a snap shot from Viktor Claesson, four minutes later, was kept away by Pickford with a reflex save, and Jordan Henderson was close at hand to take care of the rebound. A long clearance from its goalkeeper gave the Scandinavians another bite and Berg’s turning effort from the quick counter was tipped just over by the extended Pickford.
The forward-pressing Swedes, clearly getting tired, left enough holes in the back to keep the England strikers in the game but Sterling and substitute Fabian Delph failed to show enough interest to vie for the ball as a rebound came their way with minutes to play for.
The Three Lions — perhaps saving on gas for further battles ahead —completed a professional, but unspectacular, job.
England are heavy, forceful and well organised and they can win the World Cup as they also don’t give too many openings. Gareth Southgate has done a great job. For the first half hour it was even and then they score from a set piece
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