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ENGLAND progressed to the semi-finals of the World Cup for only the third time in their history after a surprisingly comfortable win over Sweden in Samara yesterday.
After a nervous beginning, powerful headed goals either side of half-time from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli secured England their fourth victory of this tournament, something no other men’s senior team has achieved since 1966.
With an all-European semi-final line-up lacking the usual World Cup heavyweights from Argentina, Brazil and Germany, they will never have a better chance of matching that solitary international success with the team who travelled with the least pre-tournament expectations.
“I believe they would be perfectly able to go all the way,” said Swedish coach Janne Andersson after the game. “They are heavy, forceful, well-organised, I would like to pay tribute to both the team and the coach. I’ve got every respect for Mr Southgate, he’s done a great job.”
For a fourth match out of five, England made the breakthrough from a set-piece as Maguire thundered home a header from Ashley Young’s left wing corner. England might have extended their lead before the break when Raheem Sterling cleverly broke the Swedish offside trap and after failing to round Robin Olsen, worked another opening only to be denied by a last-ditch challenge from Andreas Granqvist.
Sweden created a chance at the start of the second half when Marcus Berg’s back-post header forced a strong left-handed save from Jordan Pickford.
From closer range, just 13 minutes later, Alli showed him how it should be done, nodding emphatically over Olsen from Jesse Lingard’s right-wing cross.
Thereafter, Pickford maintained England’s advantage getting down low to his right to foil Viktor Claesson at the end of Sweden’s best move of the match, before athletically stretching high to tip over another effort from Berg.
England played out the last 20 minutes without further incident as their disbelieving fans sang about going all the way to Moscow.
That much has been achieved already as they will play a semi-final against Croatia at the venue for the final, the Luzhniki Stadium, and have guaranteed themselves a seventh game next weekend. “None of us fancied going home” said England manager Gareth Southgate afterwards. “We’ve got to be here for another week, so it’s up to us now which games we play in.”
“We’re in a World Cup semi-final, whether we’re in the top four in the world is something we still have to prove I think.
“Today, to come on the back of a game where we had to go to the very depths emotionally and physically in midweek and be able to give what we gave today, control the game but also withstand the physical test was a real sign of resilience for a young team who I think are really maturing in front of our eyes.
“Of course, we’re feeling the energy and the warmth from home as well, which I think for a lot of the players hasn’t been their experience with England.
“I’m so pleased that they can see, nearly 18 months ago I talked to them about [how] if you have success with England it will be so much bigger than anything you can imagine with your clubs and that is probably starting to register with them now.”
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