England will play the third World Cup quarter-final against Sweden in Samara at 3pm (UK time) on Saturday with an opportunity to reach their first World Cup semi-final since 1990. Gareth Southgate will have used the last two days for meticulous scouting and analysis of their Swedish opponents, and will be acutely aware of the potential difficulties posed by Janne Andersson’s side.
Hal Walker takes a look at the talking points ahead of the game…
1. Sweden content with “underdog” tag
Janne Andersson’s side beat France and Italy in qualification, as well as Mexico and Switzerland tso far in Russia. This is Sweden’s first World Cup since 2006 and indeed, their first quarter-final since 1994. They are also clearly a side that go under the radar who admittedly lack star quality, but are an organised unit built on sturdy defensive principles. They revel in playing with 11 men behind the ball, working to break up attacks and waiting to strike on the counter.
2. Spot-kick specialists
In Sweden’s four games at this tournament, they have mustered six goals; but significantly, only half of those have come in open play for Andersson’s side. In addition, they scored a further four penalties in qualifying. However, if this quarter-final does extend to a penalty shootout, they will face an England side emboldened after having won their first-ever World Cup shootout in the round of 16.
3. Forsberg the primary threat
In this post-Zlatan Swedish side, there is a clear absence of egos and star names, but in Emil Forsberg they possess a technically gifted and prolific player who offensively spearheads this team.
Playing on the left side of a quintessential 4-4-2 system, the RB Leipzig attacking midfielder is able to receive the ball in tight areas and create opportunities for his side. Despite not particularly impressing in the group stages – flashing in cameos rather than consistently firing or creating – he did strike the decisive goal in Sweden’s last-16 tie against Switzerland.
4. Concerning recent head-to-head record
Gareth Southgate was keen to cite, in his post-match interview after England’s shootout victory over Colombia, his side’s poor record against Sweden. The Three Lions have only won two of their most recent 15 games against their upcoming opponents – with England’s thrilling 3-2 victory in the Euro 2012 group stages the only example in a tournament fixture. The last meeting between the two sides was a friendly in November 2012, in an encounter that resulted in a 4-2 Sweden win, on an evening remembered for a stunning Zlatan Ibrahimovic 30-yard bicycle kick.
5. Potentially difficult weather conditions
Samara, the venue for this quarter-final encounter, has been subject to a record-breaking heatwave in recent days and the match is likely to be played in temperatures significantly higher than England will have experienced at their training base near St Petersburg.
By kick off at 6pm local time, temperatures between 27-29C are expected. However, Southgate’s side have already shown they can deal with intense heat in this tournament, playing through temperatures above 30C in Nizhny Novgorod, albeit against a poor Panama side who they thrashed 6-1 in the group stages.
Follow Hal on Twitter at @halwalker