Gareth Southgate says England must “make the most” of their World Cup opportunity in Russia, starting with Saturday’s quarter-final against Sweden.
The last-eight match in sunny Samara is England’s first appearance at this stage of the competition since 2006, and a victory would earn the Three Lions a semi-final meeting with Russia or Croatia. The nation is now starting to believe that football really could be coming home after a 52-year wait for World Cup glory.
Victory over Sweden would hand the Three Lions a first semi-final since 1990 and England have been chalked up as even-money favourites to progress with a win in 90 minutes against Sweden, a price I believe the majority of us will have leapt upon three weeks ago.
Southgate’s side deservedly progressed past Colombia, albeit on penalties, to record a first knockout stage win at a major tournament since 2006. However, the same doubts and questions remain unanswered as the gear up for Saturday’s showdown.
Admittedly, we can discount the encounter with Belgium but even so, England have been heavily reliant on their set-piece game. Only two fellow quarter-finalists have delivered a lower Expected Goals from open play figure from their first four fixtures and that’s obviously slightly alarming when you consider the opposition the Three Lions have been up against.
It’s not like Southgate’s troops have been starved of the ball, either. England have enjoyed the bulk of possession in all three outings bar their defeat to Belgium. And with Sweden expected to sit deep with two lines of four behind the ball, opportunities are sure to be limited.
For Sweden, it’ll be a rinse and repeat approach. Janne Anderson’s outfit have reinvented their system under the current boss following the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It’s a gross cliché but the Blue-Yellow are more than the sum of their parts and relish their role as the underdog.
The Scandinavians are happy to set their stall out to frustrate before countering in unison when the ball is turned over. It’s worked wonders when taking on the likes of France, Netherlands and Italy in qualification, as well as against Germany, Mexico and Switzerland this summer.
Sweden enjoyed just 33% possession against both Switzerland and Mexico – despite a commanding display against the latter – while the Germans limited them to just 24% of the ball. Nevertheless, the Blue-Yellow have been potent in the offensive third, generating 6.47 Expected Goals when excluding penalties, an impressive average of 1.62 per-game.
On paper, England would expect to walk over Sweden but the reality might be a much tighter contest in the piercing heat of Samara. The Three Lions went the distance against Colombia and since 1998, only 5/24 (21%) sides went on to win their next tie in 90 minutes having played extra-time or penalties in their previous outing, suggesting tired minds and bruised bodies come a cropper.
With that in mind, supporting Sweden with a +0.5/1 start on the Asian Handicap line appeals at 1.71. This selection would see us paid out in full if the Blue-Yellow avoid defeat in 90 minutes, but we’ll also see half our stake returned should the underdogs lose by a solitary strike in Samara.
Elsewhere, opposing a goal-heavy game has to appeal with kind 1.92 quotes available in the Under 2 Goals market. With our stake returned should exactly two goals be scored and profit made should one or zero strikes be seen, the stats suggest we’re in a strong position pre-match.
Sweden have seen seven of their past 10 tussles feature no more than a single goal, while quarter-final World Cup contests have averaged just 1.80 goals per-game since 1998. The weather conditions is bound to play a part and with the duo offering their best threats from dead-ball situations, a low-scoring clash is likely to be on the cards.
- Sweden +0.5/1 Asian Handicap (1.71)
- Under 2 Goals (1.92)
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