Sweden could be tough to crack in quarter-finals
England dramatically proved to themselves and a sceptical nation that they can win a World Cup penalty shootout and that experience could prove a useful weapon as Gareth Southgate’s heroes aim to overcome history again as they take on Sweden in Saturday’s quarter-final.
Bookies and punters have little doubt that having seen off Colombia in a thrilling nailbiter on Tuesday night the Three Lions can take care of the Swedes in sweltering Samara and justify odds of 9-20 to make it to the semis.
But form figures between the two European countries suggest a routine England romp might be wishful thinking.
England were installed odds-on favourites for the last-eight clash as soon as Eric Dier’s spot kick hit the back of the Colombian net in Moscow. Passionate fans at home, starved of international success for over a generation, seem increasingly convinced that the 2018 World Cup is gearing up for a glorious ending.
However, four World Cup tussles with the Swedes since 1988 – two in qualifying, two in the finals – have ended in draws and it’s 12-5 another 90-minute stalemate at the weekend.
Initial enthusiasm for England had cooled by Wednesday morning and Southgate's men were 20-21 for victory by the evening while the Swedes, the tournament’s 25-1 outsiders, were 19-5 to spring a surprise in normal time.
Skybet, meanwhile, are 10-1 that England see off the Swedes via another penalty shootout.
England are ideally placed to reach a first major final since they won the title 52 years ago.
In the opposite half of the draw to tournament favourites Brazil and great rivals France, England will have a semi-final against Russia or Croatia if they can topple Sweden and are now the 6-4 favourites to reach the final. Some firms have them as second-favourites to win the trophy.
England beat Sweden in their last competitive clash, a 3-2 success at the 2012 European Championship. But that has been their only win in eight competitive matches against the Scandinavians.
Bookmakers are certainly wary of another England win with a flood of patriotic cash accompanying Harry Kane and his colleagues on their way to the Samara Arena. So the layers will be pleased with a weather forecast of temperatures of around 30C for the afternoon kick-off which could temper Southgate’s desired attacking style.
Colombia’s late equaliser was certainly a bookies’ bonus and now they could do with Kane hitting the wall.
The Spurs frontman took his tally to six goals with his second-half penalty on Tuesday, putting him two clear of Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku in the race for the Golden Boot. Kane is a top-price 4-11 to finish as the tournament’s top scorer having opened up a 16-1 chance.
“The way it’s going if England win in a low-scoring game without Kane scoring then we’d be just fine,” said bet365’s Steve Freeth.
“It’s the high-scoring ones with nemesis Kane on the scoresheet that make us nervous.”
Skybet and Betway have Kane their 7-2 favourite to win the Golden Ball. The Tottenham ace is a best price 4-1 and disputing favouritism with France’s Kylian Mbappe for the best player gong.
As for shootout star Jordan Pickford, he’s been cut to 9-2 to take Golden Glove honours for the tournament’s top keeper, even though he’s yet to keep a clean sheet.