In 1996, a song was released by The Lightning Seeds called “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home),” referring to the fact that England was hosting its first major football tournament since the 1966 World Cup: A European Championship where they missed the final due to a failed penalty by their current coach Gareth Southgate (oh, the irony!). The song eventually evolved to hint at England’s hopes of bringing home the World Cup trophy this year.
Before the tournament in Russia even started, I was already receiving messages from English friends telling me “It’s coming home.” Back then I didn’t consider England to be among the favorites to make it to the final four, to be honest. But the first step to making something happen is to believe in it, and the English supporters have been doing a great job on that note during this tournament.
Yesterday’s quarter final match in Samara between England and Sweden was something that few people would have believed could happen only a few weeks ago. The Swedes made it possible following the example of Iceland at Euro 2016: putting the team over everything else. No big stars, but a well-organized squad with a rock-solid defense. The controversial decision by coach Janne Andersson to leave Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of his 23-man list appeared to be the right one.
In front of them, there were the Three Lions of England, the youngest team in the tournament, abundant with talent and hope, but also with many question marks. The starting lineups provided no surprises: for Sweden, Emil Krafth took the place of the suspended Mikael Lustig. English coach Gareth Southgate deployed the same eleven he has placed his trust in since the beginning of the competition – and that England fans know off by heart.
The match had a slow start, with tension visible on the faces of all players, especially Jordan Henderson – who was seen arguing with Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers multiple times. England gradually gained control, and increased their ball possession. Defender Kyle Walker produced a magnificent cross in the 10th minute, from which Swedish keeper Robin Olsen was tested for the first time.
Twenty minutes later, Leicester City’s Harry Maguire won an airborne battle from a corner kick, his excellent header putting England ahead 1-0, and sending fans across the Channel insane with joy. The Swedish reaction came in the second half with another header, this one by Marcus Berg. English goalie Jordan Pickford replied with a beautiful save, the first of many that were the key to the success of his team.
In the 58th minute, Jesse Lingard of Manchester United crossed from the right, and found Dele Alli on the opposite side, free to easily score the second for England. From then on, the Swedes attacked with more determination, just 30 minutes away from going home, and with nothing more to lose. But the Everton goalkeeper earned his man of the match token with multiple saves, maintaining a cleansheet for the first time in this World Cup.
England will play their first semi final for 28 years, facing Croatia on July 11 at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Detractors may argue that it was just a matter of luck, as the Three Lions didn’t have to face any of the strongest teams so far, while their supporters will highlight that this looks like one of the best generations for English football. At least, it is the one that has given the best football experience to the British millennials so far.
And it may still not be over, as there seems to be only one question left: Is it really coming home?
July 7, 2018 – World Cup Quarter Finals
SCORERS: 30′ Maguire, 49′ Alli
|SWEDEN (4-4-2): Olsen; Kraft (85′ Jansson), Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson, Ekdal, Forsberg (64′ Olsson); Berg, Tovonen (64′ Guidetti) (Johnson, Helander, Lustig, Svensson, Hiljemark, Durmaz, Rohden, Thelin, Nordfeldt) Coach: Andersson|
|ENGLAND (3-5-2): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli (76′ Delph), Henderson (85′ Dier), Lingard, Young; Sterling (91′ Rashford), Kane (Butland, Pope, Alexander-Arnold, Rose, Welbeck, Cahill, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy) Coach: Southgate|
REFEREE: Kuipers (Netherlands)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Guidetti, Larsson (S), Maguire (I),
Click below to relive some of Russia and Croatia’s previous games at World Cup 2018:
Sweden-South Korea 1-0