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 a match against either Croatia or host nation Russia for a place in the final.
England has advanced further than was widely expected. Not even the England side containing stars like Beckham, Steven Gerrard and a young Wayne Rooney ever got this far at a major tournament.
England, the 1966 World Cup champion, last reached the semifinals in 1990. In 2014, the team didn’t even make it out of the group stage. But the performances of Gareth Southgate’s young lineup in Russia are being celebrated wildly back home.
The surprising run is being fuelled by goals from set pieces, and there was another against Sweden when Maguire headed in a corner in the 30th minute.
Alli added the second goal by meeting a far-post cross from Jesse Lingard with a powerful header in the 59th, becoming – at 22 – the second-youngest scorer for England at a World Cup.
“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 got further at a World Cup then they ever did with Zlatan 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 pre-season friendly at times, only to be outdone by England’s eighth set-piece goal of its 11 in Russia.
The standard of England’s crossing has particularly stood out this tournament, and another brilliant delivery led to the second goal.
A chant of “On our way, on our way, to Moscow, on our way” came from England fans in one corner of the Samara Arena.
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.
England forward Raheem Sterling has yet to score at the World Cup from his unusual position as the support striker to Harry 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.
Sterling’s movement was very good, though, causing Sweden’s slow defense problems throughout.
Virtually from the kickoff, Sweden sent a long pass forward to tall striker Ola Toivonen and looked for a flick-on. It was a sign of what was to come — direct balls, long throws, pressing — but it didn’t trouble England.
The Sweden team got in a huddle after the game and coach Janne Andersson spoke to the players who, like England’s, had gotten further than expected.
Sweden last reached the World Cup semifinals in 1994, and ended up finishing third.