Eng­land shuts down Swedes

’66 World Cup cham­pi­ons reach first semi since 1990

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - SPORTS -

Sa­mara, Rus­sia Eng­land achieved some­thing David Beck­ham’s gen­er­a­tion never man­aged: It reached the semi­fi­nals of the World Cup.

Harry Maguire and Dele Alli scored with head­ers in a 2-0 win over Swe­den on Sat­ur­day, earn­ing Eng­land’s youth­ful team a match against Croa­tia for a place in the fi­nal on July 15.

“We looked com­posed,” Eng­land cap­tain Harry Kane said. “We looked like we con­trolled the game.”

Eng­land’s fairly muted cel­e­bra­tions ref lected the rou­tine na­ture of the vic­tory over a hard-work­ing Swedish side that had al­ready gone fur­ther than ex­pected in its first ma­jor tour­na­ment without Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic.

Eng­land’s deep run also is a sur­prise. Not even the Eng­land side con­tain­ing stars like Beck­ham, Steven Ger­rard and a young Wayne Rooney ever got this far at a ma­jor tour­na­ment.

The 1966 World Cup cham­pi­ons last reached the semi­fi­nals in 1990, los­ing the first of a se­ries of haunt­ing penalty shootouts. In 2014, the team didn’t even make it out of the group stage.

Yet the per­for­mances of Gareth South­gate’s squad — the sec­ond youngest at the tour­na­ment — are be­ing cel­e­brated wildly back home. Even at Wim­ble­don, the home of lawn ten­nis, up­dates of Eng­land’s goals were spread by fans watch­ing or lis­ten­ing to the match on their cell­phones.

“I know the fans here are en­joy­ing it,” Kane said. “The fans at home, I’m sure we’ll see some videos tonight of them en­joy­ing it.”

The chant of “On our way, on our way, to Mos­cow, on our way” came from Eng­land fans in one cor­ner of Sa­mara Arena through­out the match, and the team’s march to the Rus­sian cap­i­tal is be­ing fu­eled by goals from set pieces.

There was an­other against Swe­den, with Maguire head­ing in a driven cor­ner from Ash­ley Young in the 30th minute. It was Eng­land’s eighth set-piece goal of its 11 in Rus­sia, and the cen­ter back’s first in in­ter­na­tional soc­cer.

The stan­dard of Eng­land’s cross­ing has par­tic­u­larly stood out this tour­na­ment, and Alli added the sec­ond goal by meet­ing a far-post cross from mid­fielder Jesse Lin­gard with a pow­er­ful header in the 59th. At 22, Alli be­came the sec­ond-youngest scorer for Eng­land at a World Cup be­hind Michael Owen.

“We knew set plays would be key,” Maguire said. “And also that lit­tle ball that Jesse sent in for Dele, that was great. We worked on that in prac­tice.”

It proved to be a match too far for the Swedes, who ad­vanced fur­ther than they ever did with Ibrahi­movic — the team’s star for more than a decade — by be­ing com­pact and hard to break down. That helped them win a two-leg play­off against Italy to get to the World Cup, top a group con­tain­ing Ger­many, and then beat Switzer­land in the round of 16.

They be­gan solidly against Eng­land in a slow and sloppy start to the game that re­sem­bled a pre­sea­son friendly at times, only to be out­done by a goal Swe­den isn’t used to con­ced­ing.

“Up un­til that cor­ner, I felt that we had ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol,” Swe­den coach Janne An­der­s­son said. “I felt that we had the match in our hands.”

Although Swe­den ral­lied in the fi­nal 30 min­utes, forc­ing two good saves from goal­keeper Jordan Pick­ford, Eng­land com­fort­ably held on for its first shutout of the tour­na­ment.

Ster­ling’s strug­gles

Eng­land for­ward Ra­heem Ster­ling has yet to score at the World Cup from his un­usual po­si­tion as the sup­port striker to Kane, and his fin­ish­ing let him down against Swe­den.

Set clear by Jordan Hen­der­son’s long pass over the de­fense late in the first half, Ster­ling tried to get around Swe­den goal­keeper Robin Olsen but was stopped. Ster­ling got hold of the loose ball but his shot was de­flected over.

Yuri Cortez / Getty Images

Eng­land’s Dele Alli, in red, scores on a header to give his squad a 2-0 lead it would never re­lin­quish dur­ing Eng­land’s World Cup quarterfinal against Swe­den on Sat­ur­day. The win ad­vances Eng­land to the semi­fi­nals where it will meet Croa­tia on Wed­nes­day.

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