England will try to consign 22 years of major tournament misery in Russia to the history books when they face Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup at the Cosmos Arena in Samara on Sunday.

The last time that England reached the last four of a major tournament goes back to Euro 96 when they were knocked out by Germany on penalty shoot-out, with the now manager Gareth Southgate seeing his final kick saved by goalkeeper Andreas Kopke.

Meanwhile they go into the game as clear favourites but the Three Lions can’t afford to underestimate a Swedish side that has far exceeded all expectations by reaching this stage.

Even getting to the World Cup seemed unlikely for Sweden when they were paired with France and the Netherlands in a tough qualifying group.

They beat the Dutch to second place before knocking Italy out in the play-offs and then winning a World Cup group that included Germany.

Therefore it is absolutely no fluke that they are in Russia and while there are more talented sides left, few can match Sweden’s worth ethic and discipline.

They edged out Switzerland in the last 16 to reach this stage, a few hours before England finally won a World Cup penalty shoot-out to beat Colombia in their tie.

Gareth Southgate’s men must now really fancy their chances of potentially going all the way to the final but their manager’s calm demeanour will ensure nobody in the squad is getting too carried away.

This will be a different test to Colombia but it could be just as tough and there may be at least another nerve-jangling 90 minutes for England fans to endure.

Sweden play what is only really an orthodox 4-4-2 but they are all very good at sticking to their jobs and they’ve shown at this World Cup that they are more than just a defensive side.

They’ve scored in all of their four matches and are a threat from set-pieces which could be a concern for an English side that conceded in that fashion late on against Colombia last time out.

While there is no Zlatan and no real stars in their side, Sweden will fancy they can score at some point in this game against an England team that is yet to keep a clean sheet at this tournament.

At the other end, the Swedes may be organised defensively but they aren’t the most mobile and England will believe the pace and movement of the likes of Sterling, Alli and Lingard will pose them real problems.

The fact they have the tournament’s top scorer also helps and Harry Kane’s brilliant return of six goals from three appearances at this World Cup, will surely be a great threat to the Swedes back-line.

While goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire both excelled against Colombia, there is still the nagging feeling that England’s defence and inability to keep a clean sheet could be what prevents them going all the way though.

Kyle Walker hasn’t totally flourished in central defence while John Stones also had the odd nervy moment in extra-time in the last round.

Sweden are quite direct and with two powerful strikers they look to go the aerial route when needs be and it’s worth noting that three of the four goals England have conceded at this tournament have come about via crosses, if you include the penalty Kyle Walker gave away against Tunisia.

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Friday, November 16, 2018
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