The biggest match in English football in 12 years takes place on Saturday afternoon when Sweden go up against England in the third World Cup quarter final. Both sides go into the contest knowing a semi-final against either Russia or Croatia awaits the winners.
This is a huge opportunity for both sides to make the World Cup final and the one who is prepared to grasp that chance may well turn out to be the winner here. England are looking for their first semi-final since 1990 and Sweden their first since 1994.
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The Swedish success in this tournament so far has certainly be based on their defensive abilities. The match against Germany remains the only one they have conceded a goal in although they have had their goalkeeper to thank for that in most of the other matches. They sit deep and deny space in the penalty box and look to counter from there.
Clearly the weakness for Sweden is at the other end of the pitch where their strikers are not really at this level. Their leading scorer in the tournament is their centre-back and main man Emil Forsberg has only found the net once and that needed a savage deflection to make its way in. Sweden should have much more to give in attacking areas with that in mind but it remains to see if they can find it.
While their fans could have done without it, and I dare say the support staff too, England will have gained a lot in winning a penalty shootout against Colombia in the last round. The stigma that was attached to penalties may now be lifted which could give this young England side even more freedom to express themselves as they know they do not have to fear spot kicks.
England have been quite expressive in this tournament anyway and actually there was a lot to admire about them in their win over Colombia. They kept their composure when getting wound up and controlled the game for 93 of the 94 minutes. They displayed a confidence not seen by England players before when the penalties came around.
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Sweden will be missing Mikael Lustig for this match as he is suspended for picking up a second yellow card in the previous game. Sebastian Larsson missed the win over Switzerland through suspension but will return here.
England had fitness doubts over Kyle Walker and Ashley Young but they appear to be fit to compete. Jamie Vardy is a major doubt with a groin strain that stopped him from taking a penalty against Colombia. Dele Alli may be forced to miss out too.
Sweden have done brilliantly well to make it to this stage but I think England will have too much for them. It might take a while for the goal to come but in the end I think England will get through and book their spot in the semi-final. England tend to struggle against sides who take the game to them but that isn’t Sweden’s way so I’m expecting England to dominate the ball and in the likes of Alli, Sterling, Loftus-Cheek and Lingard they have the pace and mobility to get through a largely static Swedish defence. Whether they score early and feast on the extra space on the counter or have to tire their opponents out and nick a late winner I’m expecting England to win this one.
I also expect England to win a number of corners in this match. Sweden tend to force opponents into wide areas when they attack by defending narrow so Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier should have plenty of chances to put balls into the box. I’m expecting England to be told to shoot from distance in this one which can get deflections and things. England play for set pieces these days with them being so strong from them and having picked up seven corners in three of their four matches so far with Sweden conceding eight, seven and 11 in their last three, England to rack up the corners is likely. I’ll take them to pick up half a dozen here.
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