David Lee in Russia: England's young guns continue improbable march towards World Cup glory

Dele Alli of England celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the second goal in his team's 2-0 quarter-final win over Sweden. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
England's Harry Maguire shoots at goal. PHOTO: REUTERS
England's Harry Kane goes down after sustaining an injury. PHOTO: REUTERS
England's Eric Dier in action with Sweden's John Guidetti. PHOTO: REUTERS
Sweden's Pontus Jansson in action with England's Kyle Walker. PHOTO: REUTERS
Sweden coach Janne Andersson and Andreas Granqvist applaud the fans at the end of the match. PHOTO: REUTERS
Sweden's Victor Lindelof and John Guidetti look dejected after the match. PHOTO: REUTERS
England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates after the match. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SAMARA - 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 on Saturday (July 7) 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 Croatia in the second semi-final in Moscow on Wednesday (July 11). The Croatians beat hosts Russia 4-3 on penalties after the tournament's last quarter-final was tied 2-2 at full-time.

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 on Saturday.

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.

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.

Remote video URL
Remote video URL
Remote video URL

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 on July 15.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.