Football: England fans in Singapore cheer Three Lions' march into semi-finals

Above: Dele Alli putting England 2-0 up with a header.
Above: Dele Alli putting England 2-0 up with a header.
Top: Dele Alli putting England 2-0 up with a header. England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford contributing at the other end with one of his several saves to keep a first clean sheet in Russia.
Above: England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford contributing at the other end with one of his several saves to keep a first clean sheet in Russia.PHOTO: REUTERS

Headed goals from Maguire and Alli propel England into last four for first time since 1990

QUARTER-FINALS

Sweden 0 England 2

Once again, England found an opening through a set piece scored by Harry. But, on a day Kane could not, it was Maguire who led the way by heading in Ashley Young's 30th-minute corner past Robin Olsen.

Another headed goal from Dele Alli in the 59th minute sealed a 2-0 quarter-final win over Sweden at the Cosmos Arena yesterday as The Three Lions continued their improbable march towards World Cup glory.

This is only the third time England have qualified for the semi-finals after losing to Germany on penalties in 1990 and 1966, when they won their only World Cup.

Gareth Southgate's young guns will play either Russia or Croatia in the second semi-final in Moscow on Wednesday.

Due to a mix of the British media's negative reports about Russia, and skepticism from both sets of fans, Sweden and England supporters were largely limited to clusters behind the goal yesterday.

Among the 39,991-strong crowd, there was a considerable contingent of Germans and Colombians who had expected their teams to last longer than they did.


England defender Harry Maguire (centre) celebrating with teammates John Stones (left) and Harry Kane after scoring the 30th-minute opener during the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match against Sweden yesterday. A second-half goal from Dele Alli secured a 2-0 win, and England’s first World Cup semi-final spot since losing to Germany on penalties at Italia 90. This is only the third time England have qualified for the semi-finals after 1990 and 1966, when they won their only World Cup. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The teams on the pitch also started off playing like they could hardly believe they have come this far. The pre-match discussion had revolved around the lack of fear factor for both teams and they justified that with half an hour of tentative play that was devoid of ideas and creativity.

KEEP BELIEVING

It has been an amazing journey for myself and all of the boys. We can only imagine the support back home, and the only thing better than supporting is playing. We have just got to keep believing.

DELE ALLI, scorer of England's second goal.


GAME, SET, MATCH

We're through. That's the main thing. We felt we could dominate the ball today. We knew set plays would be a big thing.

HARRY MAGUIRE, scorer of England's first goal after heading in from a corner.


FANTASTIC, WE GO AGAIN

I thought we were fantastic. We faced the long ball - different to what we have faced before and we're buzzing with the result. We know there is a big game ahead with the semi-final but we are feeling good and we're confident. We just have to go again.

HARRY KANE, England captain.

It was only apt then, for someone who is used to such scrappiness while plying his trade for smaller clubs like Sheffield United, Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Leicester City to pop up and open the scoring.

Maguire, the 25-year-old Leicester defender, had just five caps coming into this tournament, and his teachers commented that while he was an all-rounder who was good at cross country, discus-throwing and of course football, they felt he was more likely to become an accountant as he was scoring As in school.

Two years ago, he was in the stands watching England crash out at the hands of underdogs Iceland at Euro 2016. But now, Maguire will deservedly be feted as a national hero for his goal and contributing to his team's first clean sheet in this competition.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford also impressed with two superb saves from Marcus Berg and Viktor Claesson.

His opposite number Olsen made a good stop to deny Raheem Sterling his first England goal in 1,000 days just before half-time, but was helpless to prevent Alli from heading in Jesse Lingard's cross in the 59th minute for only their third goal from open play in five games.

Understandably, there will still be the snide remarks about how England have been lucky to dodge the big guns in the lower-ranked half of the draw and doubts over their ability to overcome stronger teams like France or Belgium.

But they can beat only the teams in front of them and, after tripping over teams like Costa Rica and Iceland in recent years, they deserve some credit for overcoming that psychological barrier when few had given them a chance of playing the full seven games here.

Taking a break from the relentless singing of England's Going All The Way to the chorus of Earth, Wind & Fire's September, a delighted 35-year-old technician Sean Bruntley told The Sunday Times: "We may not be the most spectacular team, but the lads really work hard for each other. There is enough talent in there to pinch two more wins!"

Now, they stand just two games away from ending their 52-year wait.

If Kane and Co can continue to keep their feet on the ground, maybe, just maybe, football is coming home next Sunday.

  • 73%
    Eight of England’s 11 goals in Russia were scored from set pieces.

  • 4
    Harry Maguire is the fourth player to score his first England goal in a World Cup knockout match, after Alan Mullery, David Platt and Rio Ferdinan

  • 5
    Dele Alli is the fifth different player to score a goal for England at this World Cup, their joint-most in a single campaign (also 1954, 1998 and 2002).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 08, 2018, with the headline 'Three Lions roar into semis'. Print Edition | Subscribe