England advanced to the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-finals on Saturday in Samara after a 2-0 win against a poor Sweden that held so much promise but never threatened.
Before a crowd of 39,991 at the Samara Arena, England were meticulous in dispatching Sweden through headed goals by Harry Maguire and Dele Alli in the 30th and 59th minutes respectively.
England were quicker to move the ball forward as the game got off to a dull start, threatening more upfront through Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard with better build-ups.
The Swedes looked too patient with their build-ups and neater passes, but Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen seemed not creative enough to threaten the England backline.
England took the game in hand when Ashley Young’s left flank corner kick was headed home by Maguire as the Swedish defence stood still.
Their fightback was easily smothered by the English as Alli, Jordan Henderson and Lingard maintained midfield control.
England, after missing another scoring opportunity through Raheem Sterling in the 44th minute, put the game to bed in the 59th minute when Alli ran behind Sweden’s backline to head home.
They only needed to hold the game thereafter, even with Sweden bringing on John Guidetti for Toivonen, and Martin Olsson for Emil Forsberg.
Sweden only huffed and puffed, but they failed to threaten Jordan Pickford in England’s goal.
England will now meet, on Wednesday in Moscow, Croatia which defeated Russia in the second quarter-final clash Saturday in Sochi.
Coach Janne Andersson of Sweden refused on Saturday to blame his side after their loss to England.
The coach rather said his team was just not good enough to beat their opponents, stating that his players tried their best “to even reach the competition’s last eight stage”.
“We weren’t just good enough to win the game. England are a strong team, especially at set-pieces.
“We even prepared for it, but unfortunately we got caught in one of them.
“Until that corner kick by Ashley Young which gave them the chance to take the lead, we were doing well and had the match under control.
“We even had the opportunity after the break to draw level, but we failed to do so.
“But, we did well overall, because it is not easy to even get to this stage.
“Altogether, we have had a good tournament; that is something to take back home,’’ he said at the post-match media conference.
Andersson refused to blame the team’s Al Ain striker, Marcus Berg, who was at the receiving end of blame for the team’s lacklustre performance upfront.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the UAE-based player was in the team’s four matches before Saturday, but failed to score a goal.
“He tried his best, and I am pleased with his contributions to our game. He faced tough opposition in the English defenders,’’ the coach said.
On his future with the national team, Andersson said he was not worried at all because he had a contract with an option of an extension.
“I am not concerned about that now. I have an option of signing a new contract for two years before me. So, I am not worried at all now,’’ he said.
NAN reports that this year’s performance was Sweden’s best since 1994 when they finished third in the U.S.
They were second round losers in 2002 and 2006, and did not even qualify for the finals in 1998, 2010 and 2014.
England’s coach, Gareth Southgate, however, on Saturday in Samara said his team was still evolving in spite of their progress to the semi-finals.
Southgate said at the post-match conference that the team was just starting to create a new identity.
“We are just starting to establish a different identity from the way people used to know England, with the way we play.
“That’s why I believe I am privileged to work with this team. It is a super team with strong mentality.
“That’s also why I joined the (English) Football Association (FA) five years ago, because I believe playing like this is possible,’’ he said.
Southgate said that he was happy his team was playing the way he and his staff, as well as the players, wanted to be playing.
“We don’t really have any of the world stars yet, but we have young players who are evolving into great players, who want to work hard.
“We their coaches believe in them and believe they can play at a high level.
“Today’s match against Sweden was a huge opportunity for us to prove ourselves and we have done so, and the more remarkable thing is that we are in the semi-finals.
“So, we play the way we want to play, with pride, and the way we should, as a group, brave and inspired to succeed,’’ he said.
The coach, who acknowledged that there were others who contributed to the team’s current success, however, said that his team was still not where it should be in world football.
“I can imagine all the party going on back home in England after this win, but we are not yet finished, and we are not yet the team we should be.
“We are still improving; there are still other players in the team, especially the older ones, who can contribute more.
“Their attitude has been crucial in our getting through two difficult games (against Colombia and Sweden) this week. Standing up to the physical test is a test of resilience for such a young team.
“But we also remember that we couldn’t have been here today without the contributions of others, like Joe Hart who made great efforts against Slovenia during the qualifiers,’’ he said.
Southgate praised Sweden, their quarter-finals victims, saying they still held them in great esteem in spite of the 2-0 win.
“We hold them in high esteem. We are only privileged to be in the semi-finals, because we identified a couple of areas in their game and utilised our observations.
“This helped us to overcome them. But they are a really difficult team to play; if you recall they have in recent years overcome teams like Holland, Italy, France and even Germany.
“That is an incredible achievement. They are strong as a collective unit,’’ he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that England are reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 1990 in Italy, and have only won the competition once, in 1966.