Samara (Russia): England broke a 28-year-old jinx as they entered the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup, defeating Sweden 2-0 in a quarter-final match at the Samara Arena here on Saturday.
Harry Maguire (30th minute) drew first blood and Delle Alli (58th) extended the lead for England, who have now reached the last four stage only for the third time in their FIFA World Cup history — the last time in 1990 when they lost to eventual champions West Germany and in 1966 when they won the title at home.
Bidding to win their only second title, England came to Russia with probably the least expectations since the 1966 edition. The Gareth Southgate-coached side has played fearless football, riding on their strengths on set-pieces and aerial movements.
On the day, England’s latest victim, Sweden had a rather lacklustre outing. They were probably overwhelmed by the occasion as they were making their first appearance in the quarter-finals since 1994.
Fielding an unchanged starting line-up, England started well, dominating ball possession, and created more scoring chances. Sweden made two changes, bringing in defender Emil Krafth and Sebastian Larsson in midfield for Mikael Lustig and Gustav Svensson.
They had a more sedate start, but their highly rated defence and midfield were not at their usual high level.
The first half chance came in the 12th minute for Sweden when Viktor Claesson smashed the ball from distance, but it went over the bar. England also got a chance in the 19th minute, but Harry Kane slammed the ball wide.
England gradually started to find their groove and played an attacking game with Raheem Sterling’s pace repeatedly putting the Swedish defenders in trouble. But Sweden’s defence was well organised and denied several efforts by the English.
All the corners in the first half went England’s way, the first of which gave England the lead.
Ashley Young took the corner and Maguire exploited some sloppy marking to rise above the defence and registered his first international goal with a fine header.
Soon after the goal, Sweden, who were little defensive regrouped and changed their strategy. The Swedish players started putting pressure on England’s defence but they were hampered by poor finishing.
On the other hand, England, who got several chances to double their lead in the final few minutes of the first half especially in the 43rd minute and 45th, played the rest of the half defending their ciatdel.
Sweden were a bit better in the second half and created some brilliant attacking moves. But although they managed several shots on target, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford kept them at bay with some brilliant saves.
A couple of minutes after the restart, striker Marcus Berg rose above Young to unleash a fantastic headed at the goalpost but Pickford dived towards his left to deny the effort.
The continous attacking from Sweden allowed space to the England strikers which allowed them to created chances. In the 54th minute, England got a corner but Maguire’s header failed to found the back of the net.
England drew better results a few minutes later when Lingard’s cross towards the far post saw Delle Alli punish sloppy man marking by the Sweden defence with a free header into the back of the net.
With this goal, Alli became the second youngest English player to score at the World Cup. The 22-year-old is only behind Michael Owen, who was just 18 when he scored in a second round match against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Sweden got a golden chance in the 62nd minute when Claesson’s shot was denied by the England’s custodian and then Henderson made a good block to cancel the rebound.
Veteran Sweden forward Berg got another chance, but was unable to beat the impressive Pickford.
With England leading 2-0, Sweden desperately searched for the chances to claw their way back into the match, they failed hugely as England defenders stood like a wall and thus wrapped up the issue without conceding the goal.