Weblog: The football punter

England perfectly poised to reach semi-finals

BBC1, 3pm Saturday

England have exorcised the ghosts of one tournament hoodoo and they can overcome another as Gareth Southgate's side look ready for World Cup lift-off in their quarter-final against Sweden in Russia's space capital Samara.

Winning a World Cup tie on penalties for the first time will have given England belief that past failures have little bearing on future performances, which is just as well given Sweden have become an unlikely bogey team for them in competitive action.

All four of the teams' World Cup meetings - two in finals and two in qualifying - have ended in draws, with England's only competitive triumph in eight fixtures coming in their most recent showdown at Euro 2012.

Head-to-head results should not matter a great deal at the best of times and particularly now as there have been no matches between the nations for six years. And at a shade of odds-on England look a fair enough price to win their first World Cup quarter-final since they beat Cameroon in extra-time at Italia 90.

England controlled the vast majority of Tuesday's game against a dangerous Colombia side and looked well on their way to completing the job in 90 minutes until giant centre-back Yerry Mina popped up with a headed equaliser to send the tie beyond regulation time.

Southgate would no doubt love to create more from open play as this has been a tournament of set-piece goals for England and they won't come as easily against a defensively-savvy Swedish outfit.

Harry Kane's brace against Tunisia came from corners, while four of the six goals against Panama were scored from dead-ball situations. The Tottenham man again delivered from the penalty spot against Colombia to take his tournament tally to six goals.

However, it could be argued that the corners, free kicks and penalties are coming because England are dominating most facets of the game and Kane will happily take the goals however they come.

Kane has scored in nine of his last ten starts for England and has 14 in total during this hot spell which has shown that rather than being weighed down by the captaincy he appears to have been inspired by it.

Problems will come for England when their back three are placed under a severe examination but with the way the draw has worked out with their soft group, Colombia missing James Rodriguez and now Sweden before a potential semi-final with either Croatia or Russia, it is possible that test may not arrive before the final.

Sweden have performed excellently to reach this stage but their lack of a quality striker in the post Zlatan Ibrahimovic era remains a major concern.

Marcus Berg has not scored at this tournament despite being in the top five for expected goals before the quarter-finals started and the difference between him and Kane could be decisive.

What Sweden do well is to be compact and graft in a 4-4-2 formation without carrying star names.

They look to be organised and it has served them remarkably well as they scored a qualifying win over France, finished ahead of Holland and beat Italy in a two-legged playoff. In Russia Janne Andersson's side have seen off South Korea, Mexico and Switzerland without conceding.

However, their one defeat came to Germany and on that occasion the frazzled Germans obliged at 8-15 despite being down to ten men, while in qualification Sweden also lost to France, Bulgaria and Holland. The shock success over Italy also owed plenty to luck.

Sweden need to be respected but this is a massive chance for the Three Lions. England expects and the team can deliver.


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