Can Harry Kane breach the Swedish defensive line? Picture: AFP.
Can Harry Kane breach the Swedish defensive line? Picture: AFP.

England end 28-year semi wait with Swedish rout

ENGLAND have reached their first World Cup semi-final since 1990, comfortably beating Sweden with goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.

Gareth Southgate's young team came into the match as firm favourites and had too much for the Swedes, although they were indebted to another fine performance from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in a 2-0 win.

Leicester defender Maguire headed in the opener from a corner on 30 minutes - England's eighth goal from a set-piece at the World Cup - with Alli adding a second, also from a header, just before the hour.

Man-of-the-match Pickford made three outstanding saves to keep Sweden at bay, further burnishing a reputation that has grown throughout the tournament.

"It's a great achievement for the team, we owed it to the fans back home who believed in us," said Alli.

"It's always nice to score, especially on occasions like this. It's an amazing feeling to be going to a semi-final at a World Cup."

The tournament's leading goalscorer Harry Kane failed to find the net for the first time in the competition, but the England captain said confidence was high after posting the country's best run at a major tournament since Euro '96.

England's Harry Maguire (C) celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side’s opening goal. Pic: AP
England's Harry Maguire (C) celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side’s opening goal. Pic: AP
 

"We're buzzing. We know there is still a big game ahead, but we're feeling really good," he said.

With no multiple winners left in the tournament after the exits of Brazil and Uruguay, it is one of the most wide-open World Cups of modern times and England will start to believe they can reach their first World Cup final since 1966, when they won the tournament at home.

As England basks in a long heatwave, life came to a standstill for the match, with fans watching the game on big screens at events up and down the country.

The party began with beer showers and chants of "Football's Coming Home" -- England's unofficial football anthem written for the Euro '96 tournament.

Prince William, the president of the Football Association, praised Southgate's men.

You wanted to make history @England and you are doing just that," he tweeted. "This has been an incredible #WorldCup run and we've enjoyed every minute. You deserve this moment - Football's Coming Home!" Even if Southgate's team reach the final, William will not attend the match because of Britain's diplomatic boycott of the World Cup in Russia over a nerve agent attack in England this year.

The fact Pickford was named man-of-the-match underlined his contribution to ensuring the Three Lions are still involved in the closing stages.

England's Dele Alli scores his side's second goal. Pic: AP
England's Dele Alli scores his side's second goal. Pic: AP

It has been a whirlwind week for the 24-year-old after his save from Colombia's Carlos Bacca on Tuesday helped England win a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time.

"This is what football's all about, being on the big stage," said Pickford.

"I don't put myself under any pressure, I embrace the moment and play in the moment.

"Nothing fazes me, the pitch is always going to be the same, same lines, same goal height, it's just a game of football."

Peter Shilton, England's goalkeeper the last time they made the last four, at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, was among those impressed at not just Pickford's shot stopping, but his character in bellowing instructions to his defence at every opportunity.

"He makes three great saves to help England to historical semi-final place!" Shilton tweeted.

"Love his shouting at the defence to organise and motivate them!"

The likes of Shilton, Gordan Banks or David Seaman would have been proud of Pickford's display.

What Pickford lacks in height, he makes up for in spring and speed around his goal.