The third match of the quarterfinals, which pits England against Sweden, is an intriguing one. Though it lacks the marquis players and fancy football of some of the other matches, it offers a potentially fantastic tactical battle. It should be the best quarterfinal for the purists.
Sweden come into the match full of confidence. They have put up three clean sheets in four matches so far, including a convincing 3-0 victory over Mexico. The two others were both 1-0 wins. Germany was the only team to break through against them, scoring two. One of those two was an injury time heart breaker by Toni Kroos.
England has the least impressive record of any team in the quarterfinals. They enjoyed the benefits of an easy group, yet they needed an injury time winner to top Tunisia in their opener. They went on to post an impressive 6-1 victory over Panama, but then lost to Belgium in the last match of the group stage. They needed a penalty to score against Colombia, and then conceded a late goal only to go through on penalties. Effective? Well, they’re still in the tournament. Impressive? Not by a long shot.
Sebastian Larsson returns from suspension for Sweden, while Mikael Lustig will miss the England match for the same. The status of Albin Ekdal and Jimmy Durmaz remains unknown, as both are battling injuries.
England’s personnel situation is even worse. Jamie Vardy didn’t take a penalty against Colombia because he needed an injection, while Ashley Young, Dele Alli and Kyle Walker also picked up injuries in that match. If they are unavailable, Gareth Southgate’s side will look more like the one that lost to Belgium than the one that scored six against Colombia.
Viewers can expect England to have the lion’s share of possession. Sweden enjoyed the majority of the possession in just one of their matches so far, their opening win against South Korea. Otherwise, they have only had the ball for a quarter to a third of each match. The team is committed to defending from the front back, and high pressure often force mistakes that the Swedes punish.
For England, all roads go through Harry Kane, the only player to score for them against anyone other than Panama. His strike against Colombia came from the spot, so England has just two goals from the run of play in their three matches against Tunisia, Belgium, and Colombia. That could prove problematic, as the Swedes are much more disciplined than the Colombians.
Look for the Swedish defense to continue their stinginess. England will likely go for long stretches without a shot on target, and most of those they do manage will be ambitious. Sweden will sit back a bit and wait for England to make a mistake, which they eventually will. The Scandinavians will win a tight battle with a single goal. Sweden 1 England 0