England vs Sweden, World Cup 2018: Dele Alli goal sets up semi-final, Harry Maguire ever improving and Jordan Pickford deserves first clean sheet

Five things we learned as England beat Sweden 2-0 to set up a World Cup semi-final against either host nation Russia or Croatia

Luke Brown
Saturday 07 July 2018 15:54
BoxPark Croydon celebrates Harry Maguire goal

England beat Sweden 2-0 in Samara to reach the semi-final stage of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

After a nervy start, England took the lead through centre-back Harry Maguire, who headed Ashley Young’s pinpoint cross beyond Robin Olsen.

England then doubled their advantage in the second-half when Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli got on the end of a superb delivery from Jesse Lingard.

Sweden had chances of their own and Jordan Pickford made three superb saves, as Gareth Southate’s young side defied all expectations to reach the last four.

Five things we learned

England are World Cup contenders

England have reached the last four

England are through to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, guaranteeing them another two games in Russia. And despite being the third-youngest team at this tournament, with expectation arguably lower than ever, this fledgling side has delivered England’s best performance at a World Cup finals since Italia 90.

All eyes will now turn to Sochi for this evening’s match between Russia and Croatia, where England will learn their semi-final opponents. Both sides will make for a tough match for very different reasons. But Gareth Southgate will be optimistic his side can beat both.

England have a real chance to make history. France and Belgium are the favourites to win this tournament for good reason, but England have a chance. They have improved with every match and, despite all the nerves, won this match at a canter.

England move ball forward with precision

Dele Alli of England celebrates after scoring his team's second goal

Sweden’s game plan was obvious from the opening few seconds. Two banks of four. Eleven players behind the ball when not in possession. And any space between the lines suffocated as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t particularly pretty – but it forced England to do something they have not done particularly well in Russia thus far: moving the ball forward at pace and with precision, to score from open play.

And they succeeded. Harry Maguire’s opening goal came from a corner, but Dele Alli’s second shortly before the hour mark was the result of some superb build-up play from Kieran Trippier and Jesse Lingard. This England team continue to grow with every game and set-piece routines are not the only weapon in their armoury.

Harry Maguire deserved his opener

Harry Maguire celebrates his goal (Getty )

Harry Maguire has enjoyed a superb tournament. Starring in an all-Yorkshire back three alongside Kyle Walker and John Stones he has been one of Southgatge’s standout players, particularly impressing against Colombia with his physical presence, impressive distribution and several bold runs forward.

Sweden’s more patient build-up play differed to the physical test offered by Colombia, but Maguire was just as impressive. And how he deserved England’s opening goal – a thumping header past Robin Olsen and inside the left upright. It was an emphatic finish from a man who has worked harder than most to get his opportunity at this level.

England grow into the game

England recovered from a nervous start

In stark contrast with previous campaigns, there are no superstar egos in this decidedly down-to-earth England team. Instead, Gareth Southgate has worked hard to create a calmer, more focused team environment. Gone are the club cliques. Gone is the unhelpful fetishisation of the captain’s armband. Gone is the crushing sense of expectation.

And that newfound maturity showed in the opening stages of this match. England – the third-youngest side at this World Cup – started slowly in Samara, with Kyle Walker, Ashley Young and Alli all misplacing passes and the team appearing to feel the effects of the 120 hard minutes they had played just four days ago. But they grew into the game, sticking to their game plan and soon reaped the rewards. It was an encouraging reaction to a challenging start.

Jordan Pickford superb again

The Everton goalkeeper has had a fine tournament

It wasn’t quite as impressive a performance as the one against Colombia, but this was another fine display from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Pickford wasn’t called into action all that often against Sweden, but when called into action he did not let England down. His save from Marcus Berg’s downward header at the start of the second-half was particularly impressive, especially considering how little he had to do until that point.

He would get even better. His stop to deny a low Viktor Claesson drive from about 10 yards was his best of the match, although his fingertop save to tip over a Berg shot a few minutes later was almost as good. He fully deserved his first clean sheet of the tournament and it’s already remarkable to think that his position in Southgate’s starting XI was not a certainty heading into this tournament

Player ratings

Michael Jones runs the rule over both sets of players.

How Twitter reacted

Last-minute advice:

Boxpark Croydon reacts to Maguire's header:

Wimbledon punters try to keep on top of the game:

Dele Alli makes history:

Ross Kemp enjoys his afternoon:

Required reading

What's next?

England will play either Russia or Croatia in the World Cup 2018 semi-finals on Wednesday 11 July 2018.

The game takes place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, kicking off at 7.00pm.

They will then play in either the third place play-off on 14 July at 3.00pm, or the World Cup final on 15 July at 4pm.

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