After releasing nearly three decades worth of catharsis, England can end a World Cup semifinal drought of similar length Saturday when the Three Lions face upstart Sweden in the quarterfinals in Samara.
All the anguish and tears — both in bitterness and sadness — of 28 years and three World Cup defeats through penalties were finally wiped away when England advanced past Colombia 4-3 following a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes Tuesday.
The Three Lions became just the third team in 29 World Cup shootouts to overturn a deficit as Jordan Pickford stopped Carlos Bacca’s attempt in the fifth round before Eric Dier converted to send them through to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.
“For the belief of this group of players and for the players to come, it was a really important moment,” said manager Gareth Southgate, who contributed to the trail of England’s misery in penalties when he was stopped in the semifinals of the 1996 European Championship at Wembley versus Germany.
“Not just winning the shootout, but having to suffer at the end of the game in a stadium that was probably 5 to 1 Colombia fans … but just because of the numbers at times it felt like an away fixture.”
Harry Kane, who converted one of England’s penalties in the shootout, also scored his third goal in as many attempts from the spot during the match and is two clear in the race for the Golden Boot with six goals. It matches Gary Lineker’s 1986 standard for the most at any one World Cup, and he is now second on England’s all-time list behind Lineker, who potted another four in Italy four years later.
Sweden is in the quarterfinals for the first time since its third-place finish in 1994 following a 1-0 victory over Switzerland. The Blagult posted their third clean sheet of the World Cup and rode Emil Forsberg’s 66th-minute goal that took a deflection off Swiss defender Manuel Akanji to victory.
Janne Andersson’s team has yielded only 12 shots on frame in their four matches, with five of those coming in the loss to since-departed defending champion Germany. Sweden has made the most of its shots on target, with its six goals coming from 19 such shots.
“We have earned our success — we know how we have gotten this far,” Andersson said after the win. “We have worked this way throughout. What other teams and countries think about that is not terribly interesting to us.
“It’s just full steam ahead and, God dammit, we are going to put in a bloody good match. We are not satisfied with this. We want to win the next match.”
The challenge of going full speed ahead will be slightly slowed without right back Mikael Lustig, who picked up his second yellow card of the tournament and will serve his one-match ban in this contest.
Forsberg’s goal was his first of this World Cup, and he has a team-high 15 shots. His four on frame are second behind striker Marcus Berg, who has six, and tied with talisman and Andreas Granqvist, though two of the defender’s shots were converted penalty kicks.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
June 18 — Sweden 1, South Korea 0 (Granqvist 65′ (PK))
June 23 — Sweden 1, Germany 2 (Toivonen 32, Reus 48, Kroos 90+5′)
June 27 — Sweden 3, Mexico 0 (Augustinsson 50′, Granqvist 62′ (PK), Alvarez 74′ (og))
July 3 — Sweden 1, Switzerland 0 (Forsberg 66′)
June 18 — England 2, Tunisia 1 (Kane 11′, Sassi 35′ (PK), Kane 90+1′)
June 24 — England 6, Panama 1 (Stones 8′, Kane 22′ (PK), Lingard 36′, Stones 40′, Kane 45+1′ (PK), Kane 62′, Baloy 78′)
June 28 — England 0, Belgium 1 (Januzaj 51′)
July 3 — England 1, Colombia 1 (Kane 57′ (PK), Mina 90+3′) (England wins 4-3 on PKs)
Sweden coach Janne Andersson will stick with his tried-and-true 4-4-2 set-up. Two changes are expected, one out of necessity with Lustig’s yellow-card ban. The most likely replacement appears to be 23-year-old Emil Krafth, who played the final nine minutes after being brought on for Lustig against Switzerland.
The other is the expected return of Sebastian Larsson in midfield after he served his yellow card ban against Die Nati, with Gustav Svensson expected to make way.
Southgate is also expected to retain his starting XI, though Danny Rose could be a injury replacement for Ashley Young. While Alli has insisted he is fit enough to play, Dier would be the likely fill-in should the Spurs attacking midfielder be unable to go.
INJURIES AND INELIGIBLES
Sweden will get Larsson back but will be without Lustig. Midfielders Albin Ekdal and Viktor Claesson are one yellow card away from missing a potential semifinal match.
Two players who are injury concerns for England are the left back Young and striker Jamie Vardy. Young has a left ankle injury, but Vardy is the more serious worry of the two after suffering a groin injury against Colombia that was intense enough to prevent him from taking a penalty.
Midfielder Fabian Delph is back with the team after being in England to be with his wife for the birth of their third daughter. The Three Lions have four players on a yellow card, including starters Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and Kyle Walker.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sweden — Albin Ekdal (MF)
While Sweden came away with a victory, Ekdal spurned two quality chances to score against Switzerland, including a gilt-edged one near the end of the first half when he volleyed over the bar unmarked from eight yards with the goal at his mercy instead of heading it home. He will need to put that behind him quickly if he is to score his first international goal on such a big stage.
England — Dele Alli (MF)
It has been a challenging World Cup for Kane’s running partner with Spurs. Alli has missed two matches with a thigh injury and was lifted after 81 minutes against Colombia partially due to that ailment.
Kane has been starved of service in threatening areas when considering his other three goals have come via an inadvertent deflection he knew nothing about and two close-range headers on corners. While Alli is just one person, he is the player most in sync with Kane and the player most likely to provide the killer pass that can split a defense as disciplined as Sweden’s.
WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD
2002 (Japan/South Korea) GS — Sweden 1, England 1 (Campbell 24′, Alexandersson 59′)
2006 (Germany) GS — Sweden 2, England 2 (J. Cole 34′, Allback 51′, Gerrard 85′, Larsson 90′)
This is the first time the teams are meeting in the World Cup with so much at stake after two group stage draws. The last meeting in a competitive setting came in group play at the 2012 European Championship, with England posting a 3-2 victory.
Danny Welbeck, a reserve on this squad, scored the match-winner off the bench in the 78th minute. Henderson and backup keeper Jack Butland were on England’s roster. Granqvist started that match for Sweden and was replaced by Lustig in the 66th minute while Ola Toivonen was an unused substitute.
The teams also played to a pair of scoreless draws in 1990 World Cup qualifying, and Sweden recorded a 2-1 victory in the group stage of the 1992 Euros. The Blagult also had a win and a draw in their two matches in qualifying for the 2000 Euros.
Per Ladbrokes, bettors are jumping on the England bandwagon as it has 10/11 odds to advance to the semifinals. Sweden is getting 7/2 odds as an underdog, while the odds of England going to penalty kicks for a second straight match after a draw are 21/10.
Oddsmakers are also expecting a low-scoring affair, with England getting 8/5 odds to score one goal while Sweden are getting 21/20 odds to be held off the scoresheet. The Blagult are getting 31/20 odds to score once, while the Three Lions have 5/2 odds off failing to score.
Kane is the leading choice for first goal-scorer at 13/5 odds, with Vardy second at 9/2 despite his injury. Berg is the top Swedish option at 7/1 and is seventh on the board overall behind there being no goal-scorer (5/1) and Welbeck, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford (11/2).
England’s win in the 2012 Euros is one of just two wins over Sweden in the last 15 overall matches (2-8-5) between the teams. There’s not much to take from the most recent one, a 4-2 victory for Sweden in a 2012 friendly, mainly because Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored all four goals for the Blagult.
But in some ways, it makes the match all the more intriguing since Sweden transitioned from Ibrahimovic’s individual brilliance without much international success to being the most unlikely of the eight quarterfinalists save host Russia because of its team-first identity and rigid defense.
And as Sweden have pivoted towards a collective, England is gravitating in the other direction behind Kane. While he lacks the rapacious ego of Ibrahimovic, Kane does definitely not lack the ruthlessness for hunting and scoring goals. The Tottenham Hotspur star has been his own best advocate in this offense, drawing two of the three penalties he has converted in addition to his three other goals.
Therein lies the rub with the Three Lions. Because there is no pure No. 10 in England’s offense, there is no sense of offense outside Kane save the one goal Sterling and Lingard created versus Panama. In the 40 minutes Colombia did not play cynically or go into histrionics in the round of 16, it played the kind of football that caused England to suffer, especially in the first 15 minutes of extra time.
Sweden does not have the individual talent Colombia has, save the world-class skills of Forsberg, but now that he has scored his first goal of this World Cup, he is the one player most likely to provide a moment of magic. Additionally, Berg has played well enough through Sweden’s first four matches he deserves a goal.
The Blagult have had the majority of possession in just one of their four matches — their first one against South Korea — and have not had more than 40 percent in any of the last three. They will likely cede possession to England since their back line is too disciplined to worry about the meaningless possession the Three Lions will have in the middle third of the park.
That is the possession the Three Lions need to turn into positive play, which is going to be a challenge on a short turnaround having played 30 extra minutes. Whether it’s Young or Rose, the left black must get forward and challenge Krafth in hopes the pressure of the moment will induce a mistake or two.
That England has scored the majority of its goals off set pieces runs directly into Sweden’s strength save the wonder goal Toni Kroos scored for Germany. The Three Lions have done well to get to this point, and while they will have plenty of confidence entering this contest, the Blagult look to be composed enough to deny them their first semifinal appearance in 28 years while making their first since 1994.
PREDICTION: Sweden 1, England 0
The winner of this match will play the winner of the match between host Russia and Croatia in the semifinals in Moscow on Wednesday.