The youth-based England side, led by the 2018 Fifa World Cup’s top-scorer Harry Kane, will be looking to take one step closer to realising their dream of bringing the cup home when they face Sweden in an all-European quarter-final in Samara, Russia Saturday.
Sweden have kept faith with their 4-4-2 formation and although their play has looked boring at times, it has been effective to say the least. They edged Switzerland 1-0 in the last 16.
In contrast, the Three Lions advanced to the last eight after overcoming Colombia in penalties. England held their nerve after this World Cup’s wonder defender Yerry Mina’s late goal canceled out Kane’s penalty. English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford rose to the occasion in some style with a wonderful reflex to inspire the 1966 world champion to a dramatic victory.
The English side, comprising more youth than experience, under the stewardship of manager Gareth Southgate are hell-bent on achieving something significant in the greatest show on earth. The last-gasp win against Tunisia and the thrashing victory over Panama showed England’s promising aspects. The defeat against Belgium somewhat dented England’s optimism but then again, both the Belgian and English outfits fielded second-string sides with an eye on the last 16.
The English side then wrote their own history against Colombia. Southgate, who was quite nervous during extra-time at Spartak Stadium in Moscow, breathed a sigh of relief after the win.
“We have made progress but we haven’t achieved success yet,” said Southgate.
“All the players are hungry for success but they recognise they’re still learning. Experiences like [Tuesday] night are completely new for them as a group. They’ve come through that and that’s a box that they’ve ticked but we want more of those experiences and we want to go as far as we possibly can.
“My feet are firmly on the ground. I’ve been in football for 30 years, and I’ve had plenty of ups and downs. That night was a great night for all of us but my focus was pretty quickly onto Sweden because we are in the last eight of a World Cup,” he added.
Southgate also heaped praise on Sweden.
“They’re a team I respect enormously. They have a very clear identity and have had absolutely incredible results, really, against more favoured countries with bigger reputations. I’ve played enough matches against Sweden over the years and watched them enough in tournaments to know how strong they are. They are happy to have less of the ball but it doesn’t affect their results, they are really difficult to score against and we are going to have to play at a really high level to win the game,” Southgate explained.
Sweden manager Janne Andersson sounded quite confident ahead of the England clash.
“Our play fits the players we have. I hope that we can develop towards playing a more attractive brand of football but we are not there yet," said Andersson before adding, “We become vulnerable when we play a more attacking brand of football. It isn’t about dominating possession but what we do with the ball.”
In the last game, Sweden afforded Switzerland plenty of possession but the former largely closed the centre of the park, forcing the latter to operate on the wings. All the Swiss crosses were easily neutralised by Sweden’s tall defenders.
“We always stand at the right position. It is challenging to play against us,” Albin Ekdal told the German magazine Kicker.
“We feel very secure about our game,” said Swedish forward Marcus Berg.
Sweden’s Sebastian Larsson, who has played in England for 17 years, shared his thoughts on the eve of the clash.
“They have a team full of great players so there is of course a lot of respect for them. At the same time, England (have) their own demons to fight and the pressure is on them. I think it would be a major fiasco for them were they to be knocked out against Sweden,” said Larsson.
He added, “This is the mental attitude we have had all along. We are keeping our feet on the ground. We are very well aware of what type of team we are and what type of qualities we have. That’s why we won’t look further then the next match, we will see how it goes and then keep on working."
England have played Sweden 24 times with the former winning eight games, losing seven, and nine matches ending in draws. And in their two World Cup games, there were no winners as both ended in draws. The last time the two sides met, it was best remembered for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s outrageous overhead kick from outside the box. Sweden won that tie 4-2, months after their 3-2 loss against England at Euro 2012.