England have already enjoyed their best World Cup campaign since 2006 and have a very solid chance of making it through to the final four when they face Sweden in their quarter-final in Samara on Saturday (3pm live on BBC1).
Gareth Southgate’s side have already cast aside England’s traditional hoodoo. They had lost each of their previous five penalty shootouts in major international competitions, and never before won one at a World Cup, prior to the 4-3 shootout win over Colombia on Tuesday.
It was, in general, a match that raised more questions than answers in terms of whether England are viable World Cup winners. The elimination of a number of the pre-tournament favourites, including holders Germany and 2010 winners Spain, and England’s position on the favourable side of the draw now make them third favourites in the World Cup betting with most of the top UK bookies.
Yet while England did eventually emerge victorious, there were spells of the 1-1 draw through normal and extra-time in which they seemed to have few ideas as to how to break down a determined Colombian defence. Set-pieces were one of England’s primary routes to goal during the group stage, but against a team with the necessary height and smarts to deal with them, their routines were not as successful.
England’s goal did indirectly come from a set-piece. Harry Kane was dragged down inside the area as he tried to find space to meet a delivery into the area, and he stepped up to decisively convert the resulting penalty early in the second half. But they then conceded an injury time equaliser from a Colombia corner, headed home by Yerry Mina.
Southgate’s side showed good initial composure in possession up against an organised press but were unable to inject enough pace into their play once they got into the attacking half. Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard didn’t take advantage of the space that opened up when Colombia’s central defenders stepped out to challenge the ball, while Raheem Sterling again struggled to get into the game alongside Kane up front.
Concerning, too, was Southgate’s inability to effectively respond to the formation changes his opposite number, Jose Pekerman, made in the second half through extra-time. Southgate had undoubtedly done good work in terms in establishing an overarching style of play and fostering team togetherness, but his inexperience did, perhaps, show when he was tasked with making in-match tactical alterations against a more seasoned opponent.
While this England team are impressive in many ways and have an excellent opportunity to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, there are still certain weaknesses that can be exploited.
Janne Andersson is the next coach tasked with trying to do so. He has already led Sweden further than they have gone in a World Cup for nearly a quarter of a century, and he and his squad are confident of continuing their participation for at least another round.
That confidence is partly a function of Sweden’s pretty strong historical record against England. They were victorious in a friendly meeting between the sides in 2012, have secured draws on the two occasions the teams have previously met at the World Cup (in 2002 and 2006), and from the mid-eighties onwards have won five, to England’s two, of the 18 matches between them.
It also comes from the path Sweden have taken to the last eight. In qualifying, they eliminated the Netherlands in their group and then defeated Italy in their playoff. In Russia, they progressed in first place from a group that also featured Germany and Mexico.
There is little particularly sophisticated in Sweden’s approach. They line up in a classic 4-4-2 formation, stay compact out of possession and create the majority of their chances from deliveries into the area. Emil Forsberg, scorer of the deflected goal that saw them past Switzerland in the round-of-16, offers a bit of creative spark from the left flank, but they are otherwise a team whose organisation and work-rate are their key virtues.
It is sure to be a tight match, akin to both of their round-of-16 encounters, but England should have the edge. They have more firepower, including tournament top-scorer Kane, and if they can get things to click properly in the final third, will be capable of getting the goal or two that will be required to progress to the semi-finals.
Our Preview’s England vs. Sweden Betting Tips Verdict
- Back England to win (in normal time) @ 19/20 with Betfred.
- Latest World Cup odds, including match and outright winner betting.