World Cup Quarterfinal: Sweden, England coming down to who believes in themselves the most
The Quarter-final between England and Sweden has arrived. Both nations come into the fixture in great spirits as they aim to keep their nations World Cup dreams alive.
Sweden scraped through as Group F winners on goal difference. Beating South Korea 1-0, losing to a 10-man Germany 2-1 and defeating Mexico 3-0. Once into the last 16, they overcame 10-man Switzerland 1-0.
England's journey started with wins against Tunisia and Panama. Gareth Southgate then decided to rest most of his squad for the game against Belgium. The Three Lions lost 1-0 to finish second in Group G for the so-called easier path in this tournament. Up against Colombia, they conceded a late Yerry Mina header after being 1-0 up to carry into extra time. Ending on penalties, Jordan Pickford was hailed the hero with Eric Dier scoring the winner, much to the relief of Jordan Henderson.
These sides do have a history as they met 24 times in international football. The most recent match was November 2012 when Sweden were 4-2 winners in a friendly. It was the Zlatan Ibrahimovic four-goal-haul including that overhead kick. The last competitive match-up was back in 2006 edition of the World Cup in Germany. It was a 2-2 draw, which some will remember Joe Cole's wonder goal. It was also the game where Michael Owen came back from injury only to be injured after coming on. Both teams qualified from Group B respectively.
The records from these nations stand as eight England wins, nine draws and seven Sweden victories.
Ranked 24th in the world, the Blagult are aiming for their best World Cup finish since coming third in 1994. They were runners-up in 1958 (which they hosted).
There are no injury worries for Sweden which is a positive sign for Janne Andersson and the squad. Sebastian Larsson will return after suspension. Yellow cards will be reset after the quarter-finals. This was a rule changed by FIFA so that players had more chance of not missing big games due to suspensions. Mikael Lustig will be the only player to miss out due to picking up two bookings.
Sweden will use the traditional 4-4-2 formation with Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg likely leading the line. Much of the squad is due to remain the same. Andreas Granqvist has been praised for his performances and role of captaincy. The team looks to be gelling better without the superstar that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Excluding Germany '74 where there was a second round of groups, Sweden have actually won four out of five quarter-finals they appeared in. The only loss was their first attempt, defeated 2-1 by Germany in 1934.
Ranked 12th in the world, injury worries for England includes Dele Alli again. The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder suffered what seemed to be a recurring thigh injury. Harry Kane was in discomfort after an exhilarating match against Colombia. Kyle Walker also felt the pain as extra time took the toll out of him. Jamie Vardy suffered a groin injury but may be back in contention by Saturday. Some players shouldn't be too fatigued by the time the Sweden game comes around, but one or two players may miss out.
No players will miss out due to suspension. Even though Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jesse Lingard and Kyle Walker are on one yellow they won't miss the next game if England progress should they pick up another booking.
Gareth Southgate will stick with his 3-1-4-2 formation as it has proven solid so far. There shouldn't be too many headaches for the England boss over selection choices after many players regain their energy.
England won the World Cup in 1966 but let's check out their quarter-final stats. Reaching this stage seven times, the Three Lions have only advanced on two occasions. The worst finish out of those two times was fourth place. So statistically speaking if England advance, history shows they could go even further.
This match-up will be tightly contested. Sweden have proved a solid unit. They have physical players yet possess others who are technically gifted. That being said, I think England will be smart with their attacking play. Playing key through balls and odd set pieces may confuse the Swedish defence. They have that edge of creativity and quality that will dominate. I will go for a 1-0 win. Harry Kane will be the star. With six goals so far, he is hunting for the Golden Boot award.