|Harry Maguire (L) of England vies with Andreas Granqvist of Sweden during the 2018 FIFA World Cup quarter-final match between Sweden and England in Samara, Russia, July 7, 2018. England won 2-0 and advanced to the semi-finals. Xinhua Photo|
SAMARA — The city of Samara, so closely linked to the Russian space programme, has had its share of heroes over the years and there plenty of the city’s high-rise blocks with murals of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space on their sides.
Just for a short time on Saturday, however, Gagarin was no longer the biggest hero for England fans in Samara and they could be forgiven for thinking a painting of Harry Maguire would very nice on the side of one of those buildings.
Maguire rose like the Soyuz rocket that stands in the main street of Samara to power Kieran Trippier’s corner into the Swedish net after half an hour to open the scoring as England beat Sweden 2-0 to qualify for the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
England have other candidates for a mural: goalkeeper Jordan Pickford built on his penalty save against Colombia with three vital stops to keep the Swedes at bay, while full back Trippier produced two assists and Jordan Henderson was both a dynamo and calming influence in midfield.
With Dele Ali and Ashley Young recovered from slight physical issues during the week, England named an unchanged side, while Emil Krafth replaced the suspended Mikael Lustig for Sweden and Seb Larsson returned after suspension.
The game got off to a cagey start with Sweden’s 4-4-2 setup closing down spaces in midfield, while England’s timid probing for a way through wasn’t helped by some wayward passes, with Dele Ali too often the guilty party.
It wasn’t until the 19th minute that England created a chance as Raheem Sterling’s run from halfway set up Kane to fire narrowly wide from 25 yards, shortly before Trippier’s low cross was smothered by Robin Olsen as England appeared to come to life, with the tricky Sterling and the right back at the heart of their best moves.
Half an hour in Trippier’s cross was put out for a corner which Maguire headed powerfully into the net. It was the eighth goal England have scored from a set piece in the tournament.
Sterling should have increased England’s lead after finding space behind the Swedish defence, but Olsen got down well to force him wide.
Sweden had created nothing in the first half, but it needed a fine save from Pickford to stop Marcus Berg’s powerful header in the first minute after the break.
It was a huge moment; England breathed again and resumed control. In the 59th minute a patient move ended with Trippier crossing from the right and Ali peeled off at the far post to plant a powerful header past Olsen to make it 2-0.
Then it was Pickford’s turn with another stunning save to deny Claesson as Sweden looked certain to score, before he tipped Berg’s effort over the bar as England suffered a brief wobble before seeing the game comfortably over the line. – XINHUA