Headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli fired an impressive England into the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 28 years after they eased their way to a 2-0 victory over a dogged but disappointing Sweden on Saturday.
Maguire opened the scoring in the 30th minute at the Samara Arena and Alli doubled the lead after the break as Gareth Southgate’s young squad continued to defy dampened pre-tournament expectations with another confident display.
For once it was not Harry Kane who claimed the plaudits as the tournament’s top scorer was kept quiet, but England found another hero at the other end of the pitch as Jordan Pickford produced three superb saves to shut out the workmanlike Swedes.
Hosts Russia or Croatia, who meet later on Saturday and are lower ranked than Gareth Southgate’s side, are all that stands between England and a first World Cup final since they lifted the trophy in 1966.
Sweden had reached the quarter-finals by making life hard for supposedly superior opponents and it was easy to see why after a dour opening when England looked incapable of stringing passes together against their hardworking opponents.
It was predictable in many ways, therefore, that the deadlock was broken from a set piece.
England had laboured without reward before Ashley Young lined up a corner on the left and his curled effort was met by Maguire charging forward with conviction and barging Emil Forsberg out of his way to power a header down into the net.
That was England’s eighth set-piece goal at this World Cup, but, while they are seemingly lethal from dead balls, apart from Kane they are not blessed with too many other sharp shooters.
Raheem Sterling has faced some criticism over his struggles to score for England and just before halftime his doubters were handed ammunition when he was twice left alone to bear down on Sweden keeper Robin Olsen.
His blushes were saved by the linesman’s flag as he fluffed the first chance, but moments later he ran through again, this time trying to round the keeper, only to be denied once more.
England were almost made to pay straight after the interval and would have been pegged back if Pickford had not produced a top-drawer save to keep out a Berg header.
The killer blow, however, arrived in the 59th minute as Jesse Lingard’s teasing cross into the box was met by Alli unmarked at the far post to head powerfully past Olsen.
England had not kept a clean sheet in their four previous matches and had Pickford to thank for ensuring they did not concede this time.
The keeper saved superbly from Viktor Claesson before tipping a shot from Berg over the bar and that was enough to ensure Swedish hopes of reaching their first semi-final since 1994 were dashed.