Following their dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Colombia on Tuesday evening, fans of England are claiming the monkey is off their back and they now have the mental strength to go all the way and finally claim their second ever world crown. However, before they can get too carried away, there is the familiar prospect of a Sweden side who have historically had the better of their European neighbours.
There have been glimpses of the worlds top talent at full flow throughout this tournament, be that Ronaldo’s superb hattrick against Spain or Messi’s sublime goal against Nigeria, but the stars have not shined consistently so far. If a side is going to get all the way to the final, then their big names are going to have to perform. Below we discuss the key clashes in the quarter final between Sweden and England.
Harry Kane vs Andreas Granqvist
More than just a clash of defender vs striker, this is a battle of wits. The captains of both nations will no doubt tussle of frequently in the Saturday’s match. Both of these players have been key in the success these sides have had already and it is almost inevitable that this clash will dictate who will be the ones to go on to the quarter finals.
Although expectation in England was at an all time low, the famous number 9 shirt comes with a certain amount of pressure as the hopes of a nation are placed on the shoulder of the man leading the line. Add to that the weight of captaincy, then you will realise just how well Harry Kane has been doing in this tournament. Currently winning the race for the Golden Boot, Harry Kane has yet to fail to score when he has featured in the tournament.
Sweden skipper Andreas Granqvist has been the rock at the back for his team and, alongside Uruguay’s Diego Godin, he has been probably the standout defender of this years tournament. Thanks to his talents, Sweden have conceded just two goals in their first four matches at the finals and they have looked one of the most solid defensive units in this years competition. As well as his strength at the back, Granqvist has literally stepped up when his country has needed him and his two goals from the penalty spot have played a major part in his side’s success. Such is his commitment to the cause, the 33-years-old has stated he is willing to miss the birth of his second child in order to try and help his nation progress.
Kyle Walker vs Marcus Berg
One of the key decisions made prior to the tournament by Gareth Southgate was his decision to move to a 3-5-2 formation and four games in, most people will tell you that it has been a success. One man who had a big adjustment to make was Man City full back, Kyle Walker. Typically found at right back, Pep Guardiola’s tactics often have the Yorkshireman tucking in to a role more frequently assigned to a centre back. With Man City romping home to the Premier League, Southgate was convinced that Walker could form part of a back three which would see him play more centrally than he has when previously featuring for the national side.
Sweden have long been led by the considerable talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but since his retirement the Swedes have entered into a new era. Stepping up to fill the void left by Ibrahimovic, Marcus Berg had an excellent scoring streak in qualifying as he scored eight goals. However, he is yet to register at this years World Cup and with his side creating few opportunities, there is a good chance he will go home empty handed. In a bid to get out of his slump, he is likely to target the least physical of England’s back three to get his team up the field.
Jordan Pickford vs Robin Olsen
Okay, it will take a bit of a bizarre circumstance for these two players to physically meet in play, but nevertheless, you can be sure the two in possession of the gloves will be in competition with each other. Fresh off his heroics from England’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win against Colombia on Tuesday night, there is little doubt that Jordan Pickford’s confidence will be sky high at the moment. The Everton shot-stopper has had a mixed tournament so far having received criticism for the goal which saw Belgium claim victory in the group stages, but his excellent stop against Mateus Uribe’s goal bound effort in injury time on Tuesday demonstrated a level of concentration which shows he is well suited to life at the top level.
Standing at the opposite end of the pitch is a shot-stopper who has been part of a very impressive defensive unit for Sweden. The form of the 28-years-old, who plays his football for F.C. Copenhagen, has been key for the success the Swedes have had in this tournament. He has helped his side keep three clean sheets in four outings, with the only two goals conceded in the tournament coming against a Germany side who were originally thought to be among the favourites to win the tournament.
Ashley Young vs Viktor Claesson
Although the formations of these sides will be different on Saturday, with England sticking with 3-5-2 and Sweden sticking with 4-4-2, there is a lot of similarities in the way they both approach the game. One of those similarities is found in the way they construct the attack, with width playing an important role. Although there are plenty of calls for Ashley Young’s spot at Left Wing Back to be given to the naturally left footed Danny Rose, Southgate has kept faith with Young for the majority of the tournament and it seems unlikely he will back down on the matter now.
Young started his football life as a much more attacking option and, although his defensive game has come on leaps and bounds, he is still frequently found up the field and helping build his nations attacks. In direct competition with the Manchester United man is Viktor Claesson, a right winger who will have to work hard up and down the pitch in order to execute his sides game plan. The 26-years-old provides a significant supply line from the right and has claimed the assist for two of his sides goals in the tournament.
Dele Alli vs Sebastian Larsson
Fans of the Premier League will know all about the talents of Sebastian Larsson as the experienced Swede has spent much of his career playing in England’s top division. Although the 33-years-old is well known for his set piece ability, on the international stage his work rate and leadership have certainly helped in his sides excellent defensive record. The former Sunderland man was suspended last time out but is expected to return, and with the enforced rest giving him extra time to recover, his side could benefit from his freshness.
Dele Alli has struggled with a knock sustained in England’s opening fixture, but he is working back to full fitness and remains a key man in Southgate’s midfield. The Tottenham ace links well with Harry Kane and if England are going to progress then he will surely be one of the players who will be key to making that happen.
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