Having already passed their toughest test on route to the final, England should be in good stead to go all the way. Things aren’t always that simple in football though and whilst Sweden don’t possess the same star power or gravitas as Colombia, they have also got this far on merit.
Sweden like to disrupt teams and force them into playing the way they want them to play, England must not be drawn into that duel or the Swede’s could cause another upset. Only Germany have breached the Swedish back line at this World Cup whilst England are yet to keep a clean sheet.
That will create a tough encounter for Gareth Southgate and his side, the Three Lions will have to show their adaptability and resourcefulness to navigate this test.
Here’s four key battles the sides face as they prepare to lock horns with a World Cup semi-final up for grabs.
4. Janne Andersson vs Dele Alli
Not all battles take place on the pitch and Janne Andersson has proved himself to be adept at mind games. He launched not so subtle three pronged attack on Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka ahead of their round of 16 clash and he will not be beyond that again.
Mocking Xhaka’s controversial celebration, questioning his disciplinary record and outright admitting they will wind him up, were all pre-match tactics employed by Andersson and his players. It didn’t pay off directly but Xhaka did have a poor game as Sweden advanced.
The most likely target for provocation in the England camp is Dele Alli who also has a record of disciplinary problems. England allowed themselves to be frustrated by cheap tactics from Colombia, started off by a member of the Colombian coaching staff seemingly elbowing Raheem Sterling as he left the field at half time.
It resulted in some needless bookings for England and some heated confrontations that could have ended worse. With England in the ascendancy they didn’t need to be drawn into those situations and they’ll have to check their tempers for this one as Andersson will be almost certain to play on that, especially if his team go behind.
3. Viktor Claesson vs Danny Rose
Sweden have adopted a patient methodic approach to game play at this World Cup, effectively nullifying any counter attack attempts and holding deeper positions in order to force teams to take the game to them.
The two wide men like to build from a deep position so the formation also benefits their attack and that’s what England need to be wary of. The wingers convert defence to attack quickly and whilst Emil Forsberg found himself on the scoresheet in their last match, it’s Viktor Claesson on the the other flank who poses the greater threat.
He already has two assists at this World Cup and is someone England need to press high up the pitch. Ashley Young looked a little leggy in the previous fixture and especially given the game went to extra time, Danny Rose could be reinstated for this one.
Rose has to attack Claesson in his own half because he’s not always going to attempt to advance down the wing. Allowing him to pick out those forward balls will be a key avenue of attack for Sweden, if Rose can stop him high up the pitch though, it will keep the ball in the Swedish half and keep the pressure on the opposition.
2. Raheem Sterling vs Victor Lindelof
The only real area of criticism for England in that Colombia game was the lack of impact from Harry Kane’s supporting cast. It was a game of few clear cut chances for either side and whilst Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina were almost immovable at the back, England need to see more from their attacking players.
Raheem Sterling entered this tournament under a lot of speculation over his starting spot, he had an excellent season with Manchester City but rarely delivers for England. This tournament has proved no different as Sterling has struggled to make any kind of mark.
Victor Lindelof was a big flop for Manchester United this season but he has put in some stellar displays at this World Cup. He’s not the most graceful defender and should be someone who Sterling is relatively familiar with, so he has to test him.
Lindelof will stand strong in that backline but he can’t match Sterling for pace and agility, the England forward needs to break free of the midfield and remain in Lindelof’s eye line out of possession. Playing off his shoulder all game will give him something to think about and if nothing else should split another impenetrable centre half pairing.
1. Harry Kane vs Andreas Granqvist
Harry Kane became the first player to score in six consecutive games for England since Tommy Lawton in 1939 and drew level with Gary Lineker for the most goals scored at a single World Cup tournament for England with his goal against Colombia.
He can set two new England records with a goal against Sweden, and has never failed to score in a game where he’s worn the captain’s armband. Up steps the second of that impressive centre half pairing Andreas Granqvist, who has also been the most important player for his country at this World Cup.
On top of the three clean sheets, Granqvist also has two goals for Sweden this tournament and will be up for the challenge of thwarting Kane. The key to success for Sweden will be plugging the supply line and organising the defence from set pieces, something Colombia did very successfully on Tuesday.
England only had two shots on target in that game and Sweden will be aiming for a similar shut out. If Kane has nothing to feed off, he’ll be unable to grab the goals. England’s attacking players have to offer more support to their talisman because Sweden will offer another stern defensive wall to break down.