Why England will need the same cool heads and composure shown against Columbia.
In June 2014 England slumped home from Brazil following their goalless draw against Costa Rica. They were already out, having been put to the sword against a poor Italy team and Suarez inspired Uruguay. An official finishing position of 26th out of 32 meant that it was officially the worst tournament on record for the national team.
Four years on and Southgate has done much to repair the tattered reputation of England as a football power. While it’s true that his team hasn’t been technically one of the best teams in Russia, the results thus have helped to heal old wounds. There has even been a penalty shoot out win!
The talk of England as potential winners is distracting to say the least and going into this now massive tie against Sweden, in the quarter finals, England will need to focus and remain calm. It’s likely to be a cagey afternoon, but the player’s heads must be on this occasion and not the mouth watering prospect of a first World Cup Semi final since 1990. Huge strides indeed from the nadir suffered under Roy Hodgson.
Sweden topped their group, and dumped Italy out of a world cup play off to reach their current stage at this tournament. Since the days of the dearly retired Zlatan, they have had to adjust to a more defensive, rigid style of play. Depleted of household names and technically gifted players, you might be forgiven for dismissing them however, they are underestimated at your own peril.
Its a team of deceptive quality, built on German-like organisation and discipline. Andreas Granqvist and Victor Lindelof have been excellent at the back thus far, helping the Swedes to three clean sheets in four games. Their ability going forward is not as threatening, but with Emil Forsberg in their ranks the possess a player of real quality, capable of genuine creativity on the effective Swedish counter attack. England’s impressive back line of three will need to be wary and concentration will be key.
England will have to face up to two banks of a compact four, a yellow wall, determined to keep out superior opponents. They were only a few seconds away from holding Germany to a draw in the group stages, yielding ultimately to an excellent free kick, their only blemish so far.
With pace in abundance, England have got a useful answer to a deep lying, stubborn defense. However, they are likely to endure an afternoon of frustration at the Samar Arena. The heat will also zap their energy, something the wily Swedes will be all to aware of, England will therefore need to break with intelligence and be mindful of not burning out too soon. Rashford and Loftus-Cheek will almost certainly be called on at some point this afternoon, as fatigue becomes an issue.
Fortunately, in Harry Kane, they have a man who is composure personified. Sweden are unlikely to permit too many clear chances in this match, so if there is a site of goal, England fans everywhere will be hoping it falls to the prolific Spurs striker. The final ball though, will need to massively improve if there is even to be a clear chance in this match.
Frustration could boil over at times, and the young squad will need to show everything they have learnt from their feisty showdown agaisnt Columbia. By and large they did will not to react to the South American nonsense on display that day. That patience and composure could serve them well today.
Against Columbia, Belgium and Tunisia, at times the likes of Sterling, Lingard and Ali have lacked finesse when it comes to delivering the crucial final ball. No doubt, Southgate’s men are more than capable of some excellent build up play, but they do look short of creativity at times, something which may come back to haunt them if they get past Sweden today.
Sense of occasion…and expectation
World Cup fever has truly gripped the nation, with many now claiming England will bring the trophy back with them from Russia. This will no doubt be on the minds of England’s players today. The prospect of a World Cup semi-final is tantalizing to say the least, but coupled with the fact that most of the supposed favorites are out, it becomes a huge chance of glory for England.
Southgate will have to do everything in his capacity to ensure his squad remains focused on this game, and this game only for now. The rest will come later, if they are successful.