England in World Cup semis by beating Sweden
Harry Maguire and Dele Alli struck as England booked their place in a World Cup semi-final for the first time in 28 years with a 2-0 victory over Sweden in Samara.
Gareth Southgate’s side will now face either hosts Russia or Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday night after a dogged but deserved victory, secured with a goal in each half before goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made a string of fine saves as Sweden threatened to mount a comeback.
Maguire scored their eighth set-piece goal of these finals with a 30th-minute header before Alli nodded in his first England goal since October 2016 just before the hour mark
England have now exceeded all expectations here and Southgate’s remarkable revolutionary effect has taken this young squad to within 90 minutes from only the second tournament final in the country's history.
They were unchanged from the team that beat Colombia in Moscow on Tuesday, meaning Alli kept his place in midfield while Ashley Young recovered from a minor ankle problem to start at left wing-back.
There were empty seats dotted all around the Samara Arena - an official attendance of 39,991 the product of several factors including a remote location, pre-tournament apathy or concerns back in England and Colombia supporters with tickets not making the trip following their team’s exit - and those in absentia missed little in the opening half an hour as Sweden sat deep and Southgate’s side struggled to break them down.
Alli gifted Sweden possession with loose passes as England struggled to find any rhythm but just as the game appeared to be drifting along at a meandering pace, the set-piece experts struck once again.
Young delivered a corner into the box by the penalty spot, Maguire climbed above Emil Forsberg to plant a towering header past Robin Olsen for his first ever international goal in ten appearances.
They could have been further ahead by half-time but Raheem Sterling was unable to replicate his efficiency for Manchester City in an England shirt, firing tamely at Olsen when sent clear.
A late offside flag spared his blushes on that occasion but it hinted at a profligacy which would become reality moments later, brilliantly collected Jordan Henderson’s superb first-time forward pass but was checked by Olsen as he looked to round the Sweden goalkeeper.
The chance was still alive, however, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli waiting in space in the box but Sterling delayed and then chose to shoot as his options diminished, an effort which was deflected wide and the chance evaporated.
Sweden provided a reminder the game was not won almost immediately after the restart as Marcus Berg beat Young in the air to send a firm header goalwards but Pickford clawed it away with a strong left hand.
But England stayed positive and deserved to extend their lead just before the hour mark when Kieran Trippier checked back on the right and found Lingard, who stood up a cross to back post where Alli, unmarked, headed past Olsen from close range.
Pickford was called into action twice more as Sweden finally abandoned their conservatism. Firstly, Berg found Viktor Claesson in the box and he struck a low, sidefooted shot which Pickford flew to his right to keep out.
Then he tipped Berg’s close range effort over the crossbar, prompting Southgate to introduce Fabian Delph for Alli in an attempt to close the game out.
They did so without any further scares to keep this most improbable journey alive and extend hopes of ending a 52-year wait for a second World Cup triumph.
Source: Evening Standard.