England handle Sweden to set up their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    The opening ten minutes of this match was a cavalcade of basic errors, overhit passes, long balls and even longer throws.

    Sweden are a team for whom the agricultural does not carry some shameful ball and chain; they are a tall team, stocked with very modest talent, who can defend with grit and survive on set pieces and direct counter play in attack. 

    In fact, if the dullest, most obvious stereotype of so-called English football were manifested as such on the pitch, that team would play a lot like Sweden do. Or, indeed, if Sam Allardyce had seen the hidden cameras and briskly walked out of the restaurant without opening his mouth, this might have been how England lined up under his stewardship.

    As it happens, we can stifle the involuntary shuddering that that thought provokes, because England aren’t, in this heavenly reality, an Allardyce project. They weren’t, however, showing any signs of the vibrancy and snap they have exhibited at this tournament under Gareth Southgate in the opening throes of this match.

    Sweden are a team that drag their opponents down into the mud, to play on their terms, and they so dragged England.

    In an effort to involve himself, Harry Kane was seen dropping into the centre of midfield in search of the ball. England worked the ball wide, up the wings, and then back down the wings and back into the middle.

    Sweden set up two distinct banks of four, and sent one of their strikers back to harass and press; this was an obdurate defensive scheme.

    Roy Hodgson, England’s manager before last and one of the most influential football tacticians to manage in Sweden, essentially introduced to the Scandinavian nation the system the Swedes were implementing here against England; a reactive style, that relied on heavy zonal pressing with a high defensive line, and valued sudden long balls into the final third on the counter.

    Ironically, it was their former manager’s input – albeit offered to the opposition 30 years prior – that was so stifling these young lions. 

    Yes, stifled, that is until Harry Maguire reached back three decades into the past himself and plucked out a set-piece header that had enough retro thump and old English thud to make a Brexiter fall to his knees and weep with patriotic joy. Maguire, careering through the air and carrying some poor Swede with him like a handbag chihuahua, met a corner with such staggering inertia, Robin Olsen barely moved as the ball crashed inside his right hand upright.

    England have been the best team in these finals in dead ball situations, but this wasn’t one of their unlikely, choreographed training ground routines coming off; yes there had been a swirl of potential targets before the ball was delivered, but there were plenty of Swedish personnel there who could have dealt with the delivery once it arrived. Maguire’s header was simply too bullocking a force to resist.

    It was a sudden moment of attacking potency in a match that had up until that point been a fairly shabby scuffle made up of impotent trying and was just the tonic the sputtering contest needed. England were enlivened, and Raheem Sterling had a golden chance to double the lead shortly before halftime but found Olsen too rangy an obstacle to sidestep, having perfectly controlled a spiralling lofted pass in behind from Jordan Henderson.

    Sweden, fully aware they now needed to take some attacking initiative, began the second half brightly, with Marcus Berg’s stern header drawing a fine save from Jordan Pickford. It was the acme of a short period of pressure, that England withstood before the match settled back into the rhythm the first half had ended with, with England pushing forward and Sweden rocking back. 

    Most promising about England’s attacking play was the way they were rapidly changing the point of attack with lateral movement. The ball would fly out to Ashley Young on the wing, be worked across the box, then speared out to Kieran Trippier on the other flank. Shots were flying in from differing angles, Harry Kane was peeling off to the far post as his teammates shaped to cross; there was a flurry of movement in all directions, and each gesture loomed as a threat to the Swedish defence.

    England's Harry Kane celebrates after scoring the opening goal of his team during the World Cup Group F qualifying soccer match between England and Slovenia at Wembley stadium in London, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. England won 1-0.

    (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    It was from a sequence like this that England scored their second, another header, executed by Dele Alli. A curved cross, hit from a slightly deeper angle, found Alli unmarked at the far post and his header was a simple doubling of the lead.

    Sweden responded to this increasingly dire situation by constructing a Barcelona-esque passing move, working their way into a golden shooting position, only to be thwarted by Pickford again. It was a genuinely stunning sequence of clarity and terrestrial coherence from the Swedes, who had seemed loathe to pass the ball across the turf for most of the hour that had preceded it.

    Pickford was then again called upon, to tip a wild falling shot from Berg over the bar after a swift Sweden break. There is a fragility to this England back three, who were yet to keep a clean sheet in this tournament. This limited Swedish team had carved out some chances for themselves, but they were all coming a little too late.

    This extra offensive exertion was coming at the cost of some defensive integrity too, and England players were finding huge swathes of space in front of and around the Swedish penalty area. Kane, Jesse Lingard and Sterling all passed up free and clear shooting opportunities after being allowed to dribble freely up to the edge of the box.

    As the minutes ticked away, the conclusion drifted into view; England were about to make their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, and the final whistle confirmed as much. 2-0, a wholly deserved, second gear victory, prompted by that sudden set-piece goal, and then breezily tended to over the rest of the match.

    Although their stodgy beginning didn’t hurt them here – largely because Sweden started just as badly – it’s unlikely their semi-final opponent will be as forgiving. Still, the manner in which they grew into the game, and took control of it, was hugely encouraging; rarely has an England team seemed so assured and competent in the perilous latter rounds of a World Cup finals. 

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (104)

    • July 8th 2018 @ 7:48am
      Kangas said | July 8th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      That was a hard to watch aerial ball game for an hour .

      Someone said England play like guardiola coaches them… I just think they play to traditional England strengths , set pieces and headers . They are excellent at them.

      I see no reason why they can’t win the tournament unless England defence gets pressured more .

      • Roar Rookie

        July 8th 2018 @ 10:21am
        Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        This isn’t an England side playing their traditional football – the play out from the back, play short passing, and used long balls intelligently – that’s not old England.

        They’re in their infancy playing this way and they still need to learn when to be patient and when to force things, but that should come, I think any of the three other sides could prove too strong for them next week but man, the next four years looks good.

        Southgate has done what Ange couldn’t – is the lesson you achieve a revolution with your under aged teams, not the senior team??

        • July 8th 2018 @ 10:29am
          Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          Yes indeed to your final question.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 8th 2018 @ 10:45am
            Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:45am | ! Report

            I recon so too. Ange had the wrong job – should have been TD working with the U17-21s and national coach for the 2026 WC campaign. Southgate-esk

            • July 8th 2018 @ 11:16am
              Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report


              What we need now is a coach dedicated solely to finding 10-20 Aussie 16 year-olds who could be good strikers or attacking midfielders, and developing them intensely before they get sucked into senior teams.

              Then Postecoglou, or whoever is the 2026 coach, might have the Broich and Berisha they need.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 8th 2018 @ 12:03pm
                Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

                Agreed. That sounds like a plan to me 👍

        • July 8th 2018 @ 12:06pm
          Lionheart said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          Pleased to hear you say this Waz. I’ve been thinking through this World Cup, England are playing Ange’s game.

        • July 8th 2018 @ 12:34pm
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

          Yes Waz, Southgate has changed this England team for the better, and the best, is still yet to come—if Southgate is still there for Qatar, they would surely be even more exciting.

          • July 8th 2018 @ 12:45pm
            Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

            They’ll go the full Pep in 2022. He’ll be well over club management by then.

      • July 8th 2018 @ 12:24pm
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        Kanga – I’m putting up my hand for that “someone remark” (my reply to you) and I still think it to be so. It is also of the opinion of Martin Tyler, Craig Foster and the entire SBS team of analysists.

        I don’t know where you are watching your WC football coverage from, but you seriously need to recognize the different approaches what a Big Sam Allardyce would have brought to the England team and what the current shrewd Gareth Southgage is doing—their football philosophies are world’s apart.

        The young guns in this England team are embracing and loving the new modern system of a basic 3-5-2 brought into the national team by Gareth Southgate, an obvious influence of The Guardiola and Klopp brands. Belgium are the other football nation playing with a back three. It will be no surprise to me if we have an England and Belgium, Final for the World Cup.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 8th 2018 @ 12:51pm
          Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

          Well put, you have to travel far to find anyone that thinks this is England’s old style. It’s clearly not.

          But they’re clearly having some problems with it, as you’d expect, but they’ve every reason to stick with both it and Southgate – I doubt we’ll see a deviation from it post WC now they’ve made the semi-final.

        • July 8th 2018 @ 1:11pm
          Kangas said | July 8th 2018 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

          They score from set pieces and headers only . That’s traditional England.
          I’ve been saying that all tournament. I’m happy I backed them to make the final

          The Allardyce comparison is not what I’m on about .
          Just saying , I’ve watched guardiola Barcelona and man city , and England are not like that .
          They resemble more an Alex Ferguson early days Beckham scholes pinpointed long passing with Ferdinand type passing .

          That’s my opinion

          If they rip France or Belgium apart in the final playing on the deck , I’d love to see it

          I like Southgate , good motivatior and always a good player and person .


          • July 9th 2018 @ 8:08am
            Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | July 9th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

            “They score from set pieces and headers only . That’s traditional England.”

            With the greatest respect Kanga—-that line above of yours is ridiculous!

            The Spanish, and all the other European teams score from set plays. Set plays, corners ect are moments in football, where any team can score from an infringement.

            Ronaldo, scores and has scored, many goals from set plays and corners—it doesn’t mean he is an exponent of British football. it’s not a tradition of any national team, but a moment or a chance to score, because of an infringement made by the opposition.

            Yes, this WC has seen a lot of goals being scored from set plays penalties and corners, but that’s only because teams are playing tight and well structured football and scoring form open play in this tournament has been difficult.

            • July 9th 2018 @ 10:35am
              Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:35am | ! Report

              I should really add, all nations practice set plays, free kicks, and penalty shoot-outs, not just the English.

        • July 8th 2018 @ 4:25pm
          Midfielder said | July 8th 2018 @ 4:25pm | ! Report


          Also the entire Optus team as well

    • July 8th 2018 @ 7:51am
      Kangas said | July 8th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Sweden were appalling, Newcastle Jets would have beat them by 3 last night .

      • July 8th 2018 @ 12:07pm
        Lionheart said | July 8th 2018 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

        err, right Kanga. if you say so.

    • Roar Guru

      July 8th 2018 @ 9:04am
      Rick Figjam said | July 8th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Just finished watching the Croatia Russia game and about to watch the England Sweden game.

      Loved how the commentator gave the England score at the 108″ mark just to ruin it for me.

      What an A$@hole!

      • July 9th 2018 @ 4:02pm
        Birdman said | July 9th 2018 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

        90 mins could be spent better elsewhere – stodgy game.

    • July 8th 2018 @ 10:10am
      Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      Sweden were mostly awful but when they had to play football they made England look very dodgy defensively.

      As for England…it will be a crime if they win the World Cup. For all the talk of how much more modern this team is than England teams of old, the football looks much the same. The main difference is they are happy to pass the ball around in non-threatening areas for long periods. But they still rely on crosses and set pieces to score..

      The defence could well crumble against Belgium or France. Sadly, Croatia might not have enough oomph to trouble them.

      For the rest – Henderson is so pedestrian he poses almost no attacking threat, Sterling is fast but never looks entirely comfortable with the ball, Lingard is a featherweight, Alli looks a lot better than he is. Kane is hard to judge – nobody created much for him last night but he does have a better eye for a pass than Lingard or Sterling – if he could play midfield and pass to himself in attack England would be a lot better.

      • July 8th 2018 @ 10:44am
        Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        It looked like a midtable EPL game. Very poor quality.

        England may have learnt to play from the back but lack creativity in the front 2/3rds. Corners and crosses.

        I’d argue they’ve made 10-15% progress, but fortunately the teams who you’d fancy to beat them are knocking themselves out

        • July 8th 2018 @ 10:54am
          Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

          Croatia will be knackered after last night

          • Roar Rookie

            July 8th 2018 @ 11:16am
            Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

            yeah, they thought that about England after Colombia but it didn’t happen. I think players can handle the physical exertion it’s the mental drain that can cause problems. Some teams are even travelling with a dedicated team shrink to deal with it.

      • July 9th 2018 @ 8:07am
        chris said | July 9th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Hard to imagine that this England team is one game away from the final. They would have to be the most ordinary team England have put out in years. Southgate himself has stated that some of the players he has are only just starting to break into their own club sides. I doubt if in years to come we will look at this team as a collective as say “wow, what a team”.
        Reminds me of the Germans in 2002. They made it all the way to the final and if I remember right hadnt faced a top 15 side until that point.

        • July 9th 2018 @ 9:56am
          Paul said | July 9th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          The Socceroos of 2015 were far less talented than the Golden Generation who failed miserably in SE Asia in 2007. That’s how it works sometimes. The trophy goes not always to the greatest teams but the teams that take their opportunities.

          • Roar Guru

            July 9th 2018 @ 1:57pm
            spruce moose said | July 9th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

            A champion team will always beat a team of champions.

    • July 8th 2018 @ 10:23am
      RandyM said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      The game wasn’t quarter final quality, it was more like watching a group game between two minnow nations. How did Sweden even make it this far, they got nothing in attack. Even their defence is full of holes. England won comfortably but a better more organised team could have put 4 or 5 passed Sweden. England are full of very middle tier players and i don’t think will stand a chance against France or Belgium.

      • July 8th 2018 @ 8:23pm
        James said | July 8th 2018 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

        In 2002 Germany beat Paraguay, USA, and S Korea to get to the final beating all three 1-0.

        • July 9th 2018 @ 4:04pm
          Birdman said | July 9th 2018 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

          IMO this England side will be on par as the worst to make a final if Croatia haven’t got the petrol to put them away.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 8th 2018 @ 10:27am
      Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:27am | ! Report

      Sweden played their game very well, two banks of four defenders then 1-1 up front. Plenty of big, burly blokes there. You got a sense they could play football in that first fifteen minutes of the second half but left the back door open when doing it. And they only had three chances in 90 minutes, that’s simply not enough at this level.

      England remind me of Roar under Ange’s early days. Plenty of short pretty football but they’re still looking for that killer Broich/Berisha combo up front. They’ve probably got it in Stirling/Kane but Stirling may need to come central and sit behind Kane.

      It will be interesting when England come up against sides that attack them – so far they’ve faced sides happy to sit back and conceded territory/possession and much has been made that their back 3 may be vulnerable to pressure, equally true is that any side applying that pressure leaves themselves exposed to a very fast England side.

      Belgium look the best to me, but this really could go to any one. Great WC 😀

      • July 8th 2018 @ 10:46am
        Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        I saw short football from England across the backline, but nothing pretty. The ball was played wide and the cross got slung in. Very English

        • Roar Rookie

          July 8th 2018 @ 10:58am
          Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          I think we’ve established you’ve got an anti-English bias mate. So whatever …

          • July 8th 2018 @ 11:07am
            Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

            Even so, Fadida’s comment was not inaccurate.

            • Roar Rookie

              July 8th 2018 @ 11:20am
              Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

              Very few experts (if any) agree. Just a few key board warriors with agendas.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 11:42am
                Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:42am | ! Report

                England have scored I believe 10 goals of their 11 from corners, crosses and penalties, which fits in with my argument does it not?

                Do you disagree that the ball was played wide for overlapping fullbacks to cross the ball against Sweden? One goal came from a corner, one from a cross and a header. Where is the agenda there? Are experts saying this didn’t happen?

                England have payed in a very English style . The one development they have made is they can play the ball out of the back, not that they have under pressure in doing so yet. It’s hardly Guardiola football though. They lack movement in the front 2/3rds. Again if you don’t agree focus on the argument, don’t belittle yourself with “Keyboard warriors with agendas” comments, they are beneath you Waz.

                FYI, as I’ve declared before, I am from English stock, have lived in England, and played at an English heritage club. I’m pointing out they haven’t reinvented the wheel, but they are riding a perfect storm, with all the usual contenders knocking themselves out.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 2:34pm
                JimmyB said | July 8th 2018 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

                Fadida, in my experience the Aussies with the biggest chip on their shoulder regarding England tend to be the ones who’ve come from ‘English stock’.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 5:09pm
                Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

                They’d have to take a ticket behind the Irish and Scottish 🙂

        • July 8th 2018 @ 11:05am
          Redondo said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          It will be interesting if they concede first against Croatia. I wonder how long they’ll play the ‘pretty’ stuff before reverting to type.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 8th 2018 @ 11:19am
            Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report

            I think that’s the key – if England get the first goal they don’t look comfortable defending the lead, if they conceded first they have limited options to pull it back.

            Had the Swedes taken the lead last night I think we might have seen a 1/0.

            • July 8th 2018 @ 11:46am
              Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 11:46am | ! Report

              “limited options to pull it back”?

              But above you have accused me of bias for claiming England are lacking quality/creativity in the final 2/3rds? “Limited options” is suggesting the same thing from you is it not?

              • Roar Rookie

                July 8th 2018 @ 1:06pm
                Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

                I think we’re both in agreement England are lacking a cutting edge in the front third. I even said they’re in need of a Broich/Berisha killer partnership up front in an early post.

                We just disagree on the style of play – old England for me were 442, long balls, aggressive and little style but plenty of physical substance.

                Southgate has them playing a more continental style. (It’s almost exactly what Ange was trying to do with Australia). It’s been built in their under-age teams for about ten years and now transitioning to the senior team.

                They’re struggling a bit in attack. This is not an unusual comment for many teams at this WC – I don’t know the percentage on goals scored from penalties, set pieces, and shots outside the box but I’d say it’s unususlly high (the cause being we are in a defensive/counter attacking/surrender possession coaching era).

                But how they score them is not necessarily their “style”, how they play is. They are different to England of old, there’s more finesse there.

                I think they’re struggling with the two wing backs – the idea is these two form overloads in defence, midfield and attack at the appropriate time … as far as I can see they’re not doing that effectively.

                So sorry to question your “Englishness”. I’d just take a fresh look at how they’re trying to play .. no doubt the best is yet to come (in a couple of years) but the revolution is underway imo.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 1:53pm
                Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

                Agree there is a revolution under way Waz, and yes Big Sam being sacked was a blessing.
                The test will come in the next 2 games. Colombia are the only decent side they have played (the Belgium game told us nothing about either side) and they missed their best player. Croatia will be a tight but winnable game.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 1:29pm
                jbinnie said | July 8th 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

                Fadida- Ignore the comments above. England are an improved side,no doubt but are still a long way from what could be termed as “devastating”.
                I watched the game last night and if I am to be completely frank about my thoughts, they were that Sweden were a shadow of Swedish teams of the past. The last time they reached a world cup final they had world class players in their team like Liedholm. Hamrin Skoglund and Gren, the four of whom spent most of their football lives playing in the Serie A.
                This Swedish team never,during the 60 minutes I watched, posed a threat to a very workmanlike England side that IMO opinion still lacks a play-maker ,or play-makers who can bring Kane or Sterling’s pace to fruition.
                As some have said, it is going to be interesting to watch them perform against the likes of Belgium or France,who ,on paper, are equipped with more talented players in their squads. That will be a better test for Southgate’s men, and their system. jb

              • Roar Rookie

                July 8th 2018 @ 1:56pm
                Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

                Thank you for repeating what I (and others) have already said jb 👍

              • July 8th 2018 @ 1:57pm
                Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                Nice to see someone in agreement with me jb!

                Both sides were very “workmanlike” last night. England badky lack creativity. Kane is outstanding but around him are athletic but limited technicians. I feel they’d be out already had the draw not fallen very nicely for them. I think even the disappointing sides from Argentina, Brazil, Spain or Germany would have all put them out.

                Still, you can only beat who you play…

              • Roar Rookie

                July 8th 2018 @ 2:05pm
                Waz said | July 8th 2018 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

                @ Fadida

                I’m in agreement with you, as the posts above show.

                Where we are in disagreement is the style of play being employed, is it old England vs. New England?

                You say old, but I say it’s definitely not.

                There is a separate debate over how effective England are at it and what gaps exist. But that’s not the debate – the debate is what England are trying to do, play the old traditional England way or a different, more technical style.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 5:13pm
                Fadida said | July 8th 2018 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

                I’m not saying old England for a second Waz, but it’s not Guardiola-esque either.

                We aren’t going to know exactly where they are at until the tournament is done. Go out to Croatia and they’ve lost to two sides that they weren’t favourites to beat.

              • July 8th 2018 @ 5:25pm
                FunBus said | July 8th 2018 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

                It is not entirely true that this is a totally new system for England. Robson played something similar when they got to the SF last in 1990, and Venables did in 1996 (when Southgate was in the team). The nearest to it is Glen Hoddle’s sides after Venable’s. He’d got England playing as Southgate has with arguably better players. If he hadn’t been sacked for non- football reasons I think he would have won a WC or Euro.
                This England team is the youngest at the WC and is just starting the journey. Logic suggests that shouldn’t be enough against France or Belgium (50-50 against Croatia) but for the Euros and 2022 they should be right up there.

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