Sweden, with its very English game, has had better of the exchanges between the two
The euphoria and expectations of the English — starved for sporting success at the international level — have reached a crescendo, with the fans winning the social media battle with their hilarious rendition of “It’s coming home”.
The memes and spoofs are keeping the strong media contingent entertained as most run against deadlines to keep their bosses back home happy.
The English, however, will have to navigate a tricky quarterfinal against Sweden, which has adopted a very English game to ensure its best showing in the World Cup since the heroics of Martin Dahlin and Thomas Brolin in USA 1994.
The team has enjoyed great success against England, losing only once in its eight competitive matches. The Scandinavians, who have conceded just two goals this World Cup, will need to deal with the threat of Harry Kane, who has already scored six goals (three from penalties).
“We need to be very strong in the box and make sure they don’t get the service they need. He (Kane) is incredibly skilled, not just on penalties, but as a striker — he is good at everything,” Swedish captain Andreas Granqvist said. “It’s going to be a very tough match against him but we’re going to do everything to stop him.”
Janne Andersson has forged a strong defensive unit, with the team mainly banking on counter-attacks to find its goals. The two frontmen act as its first line of defence, pressing to close the passing passages while its four-man backline and midfield create two close blocks, forcing the opposition to go wide and try the speculative aerial route, making it easy for the tall central pairing of Ludwig Augustinsson (181m) and Gustav Svensson (184m) to deal with.
England, which has banked on set pieces to get most of its goals, will need to stretch the play and swiftly shift flanks to disrupt the Swedish shape, allowing Kane the time and space to run behind the opposing defence.
“We have made progress but we haven’t achieved success yet,” Gareth Southgate, the England manager, said. “Sweden is a team I respect hugely. We’ve not got a good record against them and I think we’ve always underestimated them.
“They have good plans, they have a clear way of playing — and it’s bloody difficult to play against. They are greater than the sum of their parts more often than not, so it is a hugely difficult game for us.”
The English have a few injury concerns, with forward Jamie Vardy already ruled out for the game. Dele Alli, who was substituted with a thigh strain in the second half of the Colombia game, is expected to feature in the midfield in England’s 3-5-2 system.
The Tottenham Hotspur youngster and Raheem Sterling will need to shoulder extra burden to create chances from open play, which has eluded England since its thumping victory over Panama.
Southgate and his boys — physically and physiologically strained after the victory on penalties — will look to close this game in regulation time.
The singing English fans, too, won’t fancy sitting through another shootout.