Sweden and England will battle it out for a place in the World Cup semi-finals. But the Three Lions’ Swedish problem could continue in Samara, writes One Football.
England must beat Sweden to reach their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, but their record against Scandinavian sides is not encouraging.
Gareth Southgate’s men shifted one considerable monkey from their backs against Colombia on Tuesday with a penalty shoot-out victory – their first in World Cup history.
But another hoodoo looms large in Samara on Saturday as Sweden – who defeated Switzerland 1-0 – stand between them and a place in the last four against Croatia or hosts Russia.
“Sweden are a team I respect hugely,” Southgate said after the physical and emotional rollercoaster against Colombia. “We’ve not got a good record against them, I think we’ve always underestimated them.
“They have good plans, they have a clear way of playing – and it’s bloody difficult to play against. They are greater than the sum of their parts more often than not, so that is a hugely difficult game for us.”
England, on paper at least, appear favourites, but since their last World Cup semi-final appearance at Italia 90, the Three Lions have won just three of 13 competitive matches against Nordic nations. Southgate is right to urge caution.
In 1992, England were dumped out of the group without a win following this defeat to the hosts. David Platt opened the scoring early on but Sweden turned it around through Jan Eriksson and Tomas Brolin to send Taylor’s men packing and prompt the famous headline ‘Swedes 2 Turnips 1’.
Another qualifying campaign in 2000 and another solitary point from two matches against Scandinavian opposition thrust England into a play-off against neighbours and fierce
rivals Scotland, where Paul Scholes saved the day.
Sven-Goran Eriksson had been appointed Keegan’s permanent successor in 2002 and his first tournament outing came against his countrymen. Sol Campbell headed England in front but Niclas Alexandersson ensured the points were shared. Beckham’s redemption against Argentina and a draw with Nigeria saw the Three Lions through to the last 16…
It was deja vu four years later in 2006 as once again Eriksson came up against his compatriots in the opening phase. After Owen’s tournament was ended by a serious knee injury early on, Joe Cole’s wonder-goal proved the highlight of an entertaining draw that saw England top the group, only for Wayne Rooney’s rage and a winking Cristiano Ronaldo to deny them in the quarter-finals.
A rare success story amid the Swedish nightmare was 2012, as Roy Hodgson’s men led through Andy Carroll’s fine header but found themselves trailing with half an hour to play. Theo Walcott’s looping effort and Danny Welbeck’s backheel swung the result back in their favour but, after being outclassed by Italy in the quarter-finals, the penalty shoot-out curse struck again.