Croa­tia are all that stand be­tween Eng­land and their first World Cup Fi­nal for 52 years

Sunday Mail (UK) - - President Faces Uprising - Si­mon Mullock

Gareth South­gate last night brought Eng­land’s semi-fi­nal stars down to earth – by in­sist­ing they still have lots to prove.

And the Eng­land man­ager chal­lenged his play­ers to show they’re wor­thy of the top four as Rus­sia 2018 comes to its cli­max.

Goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli ei­ther side of half-time saw off stuf fy Swe­den and booked their semi-fi­nal slot.

It’s the first time an English side have reached the last-four at a World Cup since Italia 1990.

It has taken South­gate just 23 games as Eng­land boss to walk in the foot­steps of two man­agers who were knighted for their ser­vices to the game.

He has al­ready matched Eng­land’s best tour­na­ment per­for­mance on for­eign soil by reach­ing the last four, just like Sir Bobby Rob­son’s side in Italy.

His squad will now go home with a medal. But can it be gold?

Can they fol low in the foot­steps of Sir Alf Ram­sey and his legends of 1966?

South­gate said: “It is an in­cred­i­ble priv i lege to be Eng­land man­ager and to take the team this far.

“Know­ing the peo­ple who have done it in the past I feel so proud to be in this po­si­tion.

“I spoke to the play­ers yes­ter­day and said we need to be here for an­other week.

“We’re in a World Cup semi­fi­nal. Whether we are in the top four in the world is some­thing we still have to prove, I think.

“We’re not the fin­ished ar­ti­cle. We don’t have renowned, world­class play­ers – yet.

“But we have young play­ers who are brave and who have shown men­tal re­silience.

“It is fairly eas­ily my best day in coach­ing!

“But it isn’t about me. It’s about the whole group – and to be part of that group is very spe­cial.”

South­gate ex­plained he’d had to pre­pare his play­ers for a to­tally dif­fer­ent style of game than they had faced against Colom­bia in their last-16 match.

He said: “To get through the two games in the past week we needed to show our spirit.

“It was a game I was con­cerned about ear­lier in the week be­cause of the emo­tional and phys­i­cal en­ergy we had to ex­ert against Colom­bia.

“We knew the game would be stop-start against Swe­den.

“De­fen­sively we dealt with most things well – and when we didn’t, our keeper was su­perb.

“We cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties in at tack even though the op­po­si­tion made it dif­fi­cult for us, and our foot­ball flowed well.”

South­gate ad­mits one of his main jobs now will be man­ag­ing the grow­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of his coun­try’s sup­port­ers.

He said: “It’s go­ing to be a bit dif­fi­cult. We are priv­i­leged to be here. We are here be­cause of the play­ers as well of the staff. We have se­nior pros that haven’t

played as much but have car­ried on with smiles on their faces.

“We are here be­cause of them as well as the boys that have fea­tured more.”

The truth is though, Eng­land will have to per­form bet­ter than they did against Swe­den to progress fur­ther.

The Swedes, who were without sus­pended Celt Mikael Lustig, looked a lim­ited side – but not without a goal threat.

Three times they forced Three Lions keeper Jordan Pick­ford into mak­ing out­stand­ing saves in the sec­ond-half and ex­posed some frail­ties in South­gate’s side.

Af­ter a pedes­trian start, Eng­land took con­trol and they should have been home and hosed by half-time.

The break­through came on the half-hour when Ash­ley Young il­lus­trated why he is in the team at the age of 32 with a de­li­ciously driven cor­ner from the left.

When Maguire’s run­ning leap took him high above Emi l For sberg , the de­fender nick­named ‘Slab­head’ by Jamie Vardy used his nut to beat Robin Olsen with a vi­o­lent fin­ish.

South­gate has had his play­ers work­ing tire­lessly on set-pieces in train­ing – and this was the eighth set-piece Eng­land have scored from in Rus­sia.

Ra­heem Ster­ling was a livewire again – but still looks punch­less in front of goal.

His first sniff of a chance came when Kieran Trip­pier’s rak­ing bal l dropped inv it­ing ly into his path but Vic­tor Lin­de­lof made a vi­tal chal­lenge.

Then, af­ter a late offside flag ha d saved Ste r l ing the em­bar­rass­ment of a dread­ful miss, he was in on goal again.

This time Jordan Hen­der­son was the provider with a cute first-time pass.

Ster­ling’s f irst touch was per­fect but he hes­i­tated fa­tally and the div­ing Olsen was able to nick the ball off his toes be­fore An­dreas Gran­qvist cleared.

Eng­land were al­most made to pay two min­utes af­ter the restart when Mar­cus Berg climbed above Young to con­nect with a pow­er­ful down­ward header that was bril­liantly beaten out by Pick­ford.

The sec­ond goal came in the 58th minute when Jesse Lin­gard clipped a glo­ri­ous cross from the right to the far post and Alli steamed in to bury his header from close range.

It took an­other sen­sa­tional save from Pick­ford to keep out Vik­tor Claes­son’s strike from 10 yards, Hen­der­son throw­ing him­self at the midf ielder’s fol­low- up ef­fort to keep the Swedes at bay.

And the Ever­ton keeper ex­celled again when Berg found space and time to lash in a shot on the turn.

Only Pick­ford’s f in­ger­tips pre­vented the ball from find­ing the roof of the net.

The keeper has been des­per­ate to keep a clean-sheet at the World Cup and he fully de­served to keep Swe­den out with a fault­less dis­play of goal­keep­ing.

ALLI AT­TACK Dele heads home from close range DELE DANCE his Alli watches header squirm past the keeper

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