England held their nerve in Moscow on Tuesday night as they beat Colombia on penalties, creating history in the process. Gareth Southgate’s men were just edging a close contest courtesy of a Harry Kane penalty before a last-minute equaliser took the game to extra time, and then to penalties.
There was to be no heartbreak for England this time though as Southgate’s boys set themselves aside from past England teams, winning a World Cup shootout for the first time. A plucky Swedish side awaits the Three Lions next, who pose a very different threat to the one of Colombia.
Sweden have already gone further than anyone expected, having got out of the group at the expense of holders Germany. They also faced Switzerland the highest ranked team on their side of the draw in the round of 16.
Goals have been a problem for Sweden, having scored just six times from 49 attempts so far. Their solitary goal was enough to get them past Switzerland though and they also boast an impressive defensive record, keeping three clean sheets from four games.
Having wrapped up qualification to the knockout round in their opening two games, Southgate took the opportunity to rest his squad for the Belgium game. It resulted in a narrow 1-0 defeat, but that set up a route to the final where England now have to beat Sweden and either Croatia or Russia to reach the final.
A tense, well balanced Colombia encounter resulted in few clear-cut chances for either side, largely due to some excellent defending. Harry Kane's penalty was cancelled out by some late heroics from Yerry Mina who levelled the scores in the final minutes.
A deflated England held off a barrage of Colombia pressure throughout extra time to take the game to penalties. Keeping their cool, England converted four of those five penalties, with Jordan Pickford providing a crucial save to send them through.
Sweden had a less comfortable passage through the group stages, beating South Korea 1-0 in the opening game before a late goal saw them lose 2-1 to Germany. That second result blew the group wide open and meant all four sides could still advance at the final round of fixtures.
Sweden produced their best performance of the tournament so far, beating Mexico 3-0 to win the group and seal advancement to the knockouts. They faced another tough challenge in the form of Switzerland, who had already engineered a stalemate with tournament favourites Brazil.
It was a game of wasted chances with both sides getting less than a quarter of their shots on target. It was the spirited Swedes that asked the most pressing questions though and that eventually reflected on the scoreboard as they got the breakthrough, seeing out a 1-0 victory.
Sweden and England have met 24 times before with England just edging the overall record eight wins to Sweden’s seven, but the post-war era has not been kind on the Three Lions.
The Swedes have been something of a bogey team for England, going 12 games unbeaten between 1968 and 2011. The Three Lions have beaten Sweden twice since then but even that made for just four victories in the last 20 attempts over 71 years.
England have never beaten Sweden at a World Cup, with the Euro 2012 victory their only competitive win to date, losing twice and drawing the other five major tournament fixtures. The last meeting between these two sides ended with a 4-2 victory for a Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired Sweden. He scored all four of his nation's goals that day, including a spectacular bicycle kick from 30 yards out that continues to live long in the memory.
He won’t be there for this World Cup quarter-final at least but it’s a record that reminds England to be wary of their opposition.
Sweden (4-4-2): Olsen, Olsson, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson, Claesson, Larsson, Edkal, Forsberg, Berg, Toivonen
England (3-1-4-2): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Henderson, Trippier, Alli, Lingard, Rose, Sterling, Kane
Sweden have built their success in this tournament thus far on patience and defensive rigidity. What they lack is a potent attack, which will be the main area of concern for them. Nobody has had more shots without scoring a goal at this World Cup than Sweden frontman Marcus Berg.
The Three Lions must not underestimate their opposition, Sweden qualified for this World Cup at the expense of Netherlands and Italy, and won their group at the expense of Germany before beating Switzerland. Man for man England are the better side all over the pitch so they just need to play Sweden at their own game - patient, controlled build up and not being drawn into leaving space to exploit.
England should win the possession game easily enough and Sweden’s record suggests they are likely to miss the majority of their chances. It's a case of game management, slow the pace and pick the right passes and England should carve out a fairly routine passage to the semi-finals.
Prediction: England 2-0 Sweden