Repino : Enthused by an exciting young squad and a potentially kind draw against Sweden in tomorrow’s quarter-final, England fans are starting to believe they can end a 52-year wait to win the World Cup.
But the obdurate Scandinavians have a habit of upsetting the odds, particularly against England, having lost just one of eight previous competitive meetings.
Confidence in England is soaring after the team ended a long wait to win a World Cup penalty shootout, squeezing past Colombia in a tense and bad-tempered last-16 tie in Moscow.
“We’d like to bring it home,” said England defender John Stones on Thursday.
“I’d love to win a World Cup, England would love to win a World Cup.
“It’s been a long time since we last won it. We want to make people proud back home.”
England, World Cup winners in 1966, have already won over a public disaffected by an early exit in Sweden , four years ago and an embarrassing defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016.
Gareth Southgate’s men have been drawing more viewers for their matches in Russia than May’s royal wedding, with 23.6 million tuning in for the shootout against Colombia.
“It’s great to see the support back home. Everyone’s getting behind us in their thousands,” added the Manchester City player.
“I’m getting videos and pictures from my friends back home watching the game, in the pubs, wherever they are in the country.”
With just a four-day turnaround to facing Sweden in Samara, though, England have little time to replenish their energy.
And while some are already making plans for a potential semi-final against hosts Russia or Croatia, Stones warned of complacency against Sweden.
“I think if you say it’s an easy game in a quarter-final of a World Cup then you are pretty stupid to say that.”
“Sometimes they can throw you, these teams. They can go kind of under the radar, but there is no question they are a good team. They wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t.”
Sweden have arguably faced a much tougher path to get to the last eight, eliminating the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying just to get to Russia and then emerging as winners of Group F as holders Germany crashed out.
Shorn of star names since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s retirement from international football, Sweden have thrived off a collective team spirit.
Happy to sacrifice possession, defend deep and wait for their opportunity on the counter-attack, they will let England have most of the ball.
But other than in a 6-1 thrashing of Panama in the group stages, England have struggled to create chances from open play, with seven of their nine goals so far coming from set-pieces and penalties.
ENGLAND: Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Ashley Young, Fabian Delph, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Eric Dier, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck.
COACH: Southgate Gareth started his coaching career at Middlesbrough and in 2013 was appointed manager of the national U-21 side. In September 2016, Southgate was promoted to senior team coach, initially in a caretaker capacity and later on a permanent basis.
SWEDEN: Karl-Johan Johnsson, Kristoffer Nordfeldt, Robin Olsen, Ludwig Augustinsson, Andreas Granqvis, Filip Helander, Pontus Jansson, Emil Krafth, Mikael Lustig, Victor Lindelof, Martin Olsson, Viktor Claesson, Jimmy Durmaz, Albin Ekdal, Emil Forsberg, Oscar Hiljemark, Sebastian Larsson, Marcus Rohden, Gustav Svensson, Marcus Berg, John Guidetti, Isaac Kiese Thelin, Ola Toivonen.
COACH: Janne Andersson started his coaching career with Alets. In the Swedish top flight, he managed Halmstad and Norrkoping, clinching the title with the latter team in 2015 after a 26-year wait. Andersson took the reins of Sweden after EURO 2016 and qualified for Russia by edging Italy in a play-off.