REPINO • Gareth Southgate has underlined his growing confidence in England's World Cup campaign by declaring that his players will never have a better chance to win it.
The England coach put aside his usual caution to state for the first time that his squad can achieve their dreams in Russia and become world champions.
Before today's quarter-final showdown with Sweden in Samara, Southgate said that fate was aligning in England's favour, and he thinks his young, inexperienced side should seize the moment.
"Although our team will be individually better in two years with more life experience, maybe the cards on injuries and things won't fall as kindly and we won't get this opportunity again. It's a great opportunity," Southgate said.
"We have huge respect for Sweden. They are a team that in the past have been underestimated - we won't make that mistake.
"Our players come from the same background as their players. We shouldn't get carried away with ourselves being better than Sweden. They are older, more experienced."
England have a squad with an average age of 26 while Janne Andersson's men average 28.2.
Despite Southgate's words, Sweden assistant coach Peter Wettergren believes England have "no respect for them".
He told Sky Sports: "I don't think they do. I don't think people think that we are going to win, the pressure is on England, I think."
Sweden midfielder Sebastian Larsson - who has played for English clubs Arsenal, Birmingham and Sunderland - also claimed that everyone back in England "expect them to go through" and, if they failed to beat Sweden to book a semi-final date with Russia or Croatia, "it would be a massive disappointment to say the least".
Captain Andreas Granqvist expects England to be superior in one department - possession - although he is not worried and expects his team to stick to their tried-and-tested approach.
Sweden defend with all 10 outfield players. They are happy to cede the ball to the opposition, working to break up attacks and waiting to strike on the counter.
WE DO IT OUR WAY
Of course the opponent has more possession. But we have created more dangerous chances... This is our way to have success.
ANDREAS GRANQVIST, Sweden captain, outlining his team's route to glory.
They believe England could be vulnerable in the areas behind their attack-minded wing-backs, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young.
"Normally the other teams have better players on paper and we let them have the ball in the places we want them to have the ball. If you look at the games we have played of course the opponent has more ball possession," said Granqvist, referring to wins over Mexico, South Korea and Denmark and their 1-2 loss to Germany - the only goals they have conceded in this tournament. "But we have created more dangerous chances. This is how we play... this is our way to have success."
The 33-year-old defender, who became a father for the second time on Thursday, reckons the key to a Sweden victory is to stop England's supply line to Harry Kane.
The striker has scored in every game he has played in Russia, with his haul comprising three penalties, two second-balls from set-piece situations and a deflection.
"We have been very strong on set pieces but this is one of England's strengths as well and they have Harry Kane, who is really dangerous in the box," Granqvist told a press conference yesterday.
"We need to be very strong in the box and make sure they don't get the service they need. He is incredibly skilled, not just on penalties, but as a striker - he is good at everything. It's going to be a very tough match against him, but we're going to do everything to stop him."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN