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SAM

Published:
2018-07-08 15:53:09 BdST

England beat Sweden to reach semi-final


FT ONLINE

England have reached their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years after beating Sweden 2-0.

The team will play against Croatia on Wednesday after Croatia beat Russia 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw after extra-time in their last-eight match in Sochi.

Goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli earned England’s place in the last four of the tournament, as Gareth Southgate’s side dominated proceedings.

The opening stages were evenly contested as both sides looked to assert authority on the tie in Samara. England looked nervous in the first 20 minutes but grew into the match.

Only 3000 England fans were in attendance at the game in Russia, with plenty of plenty seats to be seen around the stadium.

England looked the stronger team and were rewarded on the half hour mark when Maguire rose highest to power a header an Ashley Young set-piece into the bottom corner, as pubs across England erupted.

Jordan Pickford was rarely troubled in the first-half, spending most of the first 45 minutes watching on and was only called into action when his distribution up the pitch was required.

Raheem Sterling should have doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time as he raced onto a through but, when one-on-one he failed to go round the goalkeeper and he eventually had his shot blocked by Sweden skipper Andreas Granqvist.

Sweden were almost level less than two minutes after the break when Marcus Berg was found at the backpost when he beat Young in the air to head the ball towards the goal but Pickford react to dive low to his left and palm the effort away.

Alli made his most prominent impact of the tournament so far when he found space in the area to meet a looping Jesse Lingard cross beyond a stranded goalkeeper.

Viktor Claesson should have reduced the deficit soonafter when he ran onto a pullback but he was denied twice by Pickford wholooked unbeatable.

Maguire could have sealed the victory with 25 minutes left to play but when he advanced onto a loose ball in the box he only succeeded in firing it high and wide.

Pickford performed further heroics when Berg controlled a John Guidetti cross and smashed a half-volley at goal but the goalkeeper reacted to tip the shot over.

Captain Harry Kane said: "We know there is still a big game ahead with the semi-final, but we are feeling good and confident. We just have to go again, keep doing what we are doing and make the country proud."

The defeated Sweden head coach, Janne Andersen, admitted: "What went wrong? I am not sure anything went wrong as such. We didn't get to our best. We had things under control until they had that corner. England were the best team - congratulations to them"

Southgate took time to praise Pickford, he said: "A goal (for Sweden) at that stage and you have got the ball raining in your box probably for the last 20 minutes.

"He has been excellent and his distribution again today was superb."

England will face Croatia in the semi-final to be played on July 11. The winners of that match will face either Belgium or France in the final.

The nation's last World Cup semi-final saw them defeated on penalties by West Germany at Italia '90 and have no reached that stage since.

At the final whistle, the victorious players converged on one another. It took a few seconds for them to gather their breath and then, finally, they could join the party that was already under way behind the goal to their right.

England had booked their place in a World Cup semi-final and this kind of euphoria has been so long coming – more than a quarter of a century since the last occasion – it was probably just inevitable they would soon be dancing on the pitch as well as in the stands.

For now, however, Gareth Southgate and his players are fully entitled to cherish these moments bearing in mind the last time it happened Bobby Robson was manager and Spitting Image’s puppet of the England coach was a senile worrier called Rubbisho.

Turin, 1990, with the penalties, Gazza’s tears and all that, is written into England’s history. This time, maybe there will be a happier ending. But the real glory will only be attainable in Moscow next Sunday and, on this evidence, they should not hold any fears about meeting Croatia in Wednesday’s semi-final.

England keeper Jordan Pickford pulled off three fantastic saves to keep Sweden out - first turning away a Marcus Berg header, then producing a low stop from Viktor Claesson and finally tipping Berg's shot over the bar.

The Three Lions are in the last four for only the third time. They went on to win their home tournament in 1966 but lost to West Germany on penalties in 1990.

But the peculiar way this World Cup has shaped up means they will now play the team ranked 20th or 70th in the world for a place in the final - against either Belgium or France.

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