England’s last 16 victory over Colombia was symbolic. It shifted the mood from tongue in cheek optimism, to genuine hope. It was England’s first ever penalty shoot-out victory at a World Cup, orchestrated by a playing squad that have used this tournament to rebuild bridges with supporters, and overseen by Gareth Southgate, a manager with an infectious pride but also a resonating history.
Nothing could have prepared the nation for the sheer roller coaster the game versus Colombia provided. Harry Kane’s cool second half penalty had an air of retribution and justice surrounding it. As Colombia did their best at playing the role of villains, our countries hero fired a dagger from 12 yards, right to the heart of the beast. We had done it, it was enough. No way were Colombia scoring. England had been relatively comfortable all game, why would that change now?
Yerry Mina’s 93rd minute header was crushing. The feeling of gut wrenching realisation as the game looked to be heading for penalties was back. Jordan Henderson’s penalty miss was confirmation. All of Gareth Southgate’s hard work to endear this squad to the nation was for nothing. We all realised in unison that there are just some things you can never change. Whoever the players, whatever the style, we were England, and we would be eliminated on penalties. Serves us right really for dreaming, it was probably our faulty for getting so carried away. Never mind, it would be yet another unwelcome character building night as an England fan. Quite unbelievably, a crossbar, Jordan Pickford and Eric Dier would change all that. Heartbreak gave way for euphoria.
Sheer, unadulterated euphoria as a nation collectively looked at one another and muttered the words, ‘It’s Coming Home.’
England will now face Sweden in a quarter final match up where the winners will face either hosts Russia, or the impressive Croatia.
• England and Sweden have met each other 24 times, with England winning 8 times, Sweden 7 and 9 matches ending in a draw.
• However, in competitive fixtures England have won only 1 of 8. Sweden, 2 of 8 and 5 of the games ended in a draw.
• England are 12th in the FIFA world rankings, Sweden are 24th.
• Harry Kane has scored 6 goals this tournament, 66% of England’s total goal tally.
• Half of Kane’s goals in Russia have been from the penalty spot.
• Swedens top scorer at the competition so far is central defender, Andreas Granqvist, who has 2 goals.
• Priding themselves on a stern defence, Sweden have kept a clean sheet in 3 of their 4 World Cup games to date. There only goals conceded were in a 2-1 loss to Germany in the group stages.
• England on the other hand are yet to keep a clean sheet, coming desperately close against Colombia before a 93rd minute goal from Yerry Mina.
• The last match between England and Sweden at a World Cup was in 2006 where the game finished 2-2. The last two matches between the sides have served up a whopping 11 goals.
• Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy are slight doubts for the game and will be monitored in the lead up. Jamie Vardy was the fifth penalty taker for England before a groin strain left him unable to step up, handing the responsibility to Eric Dier.
• England have the fourth highest pass accuracy at the World Cup at present, an impressive 86.6%.
• Sweden are not expected to stray from the tactical set up they have employed this entire World Cup. Built on a solid defensive formation, they will be looking for sparks of creativity from youngster Emil Forsberg, scorer of the winning goal, albeit deflected, against Switzerland.
• Defender Andreas Granqvist is averaging 6 clearances and 2 blocks per game, whilst defensive partner Pontus Jansson is averaging a staggering 8 aerial duels won per game.
• Goals are where Sweden are struggling, with striker Marcus Berg yet to score at this years World Cup.
• Sweden are happy to let their opposition have the ball, averaging a possession percentage of just 40.4%, compare that with England’s current average of 54%.
Both Teams to Score: No – 8/13.
Harry Kane to score first and England to win to nil – 11/2.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.
Also published on Medium.