England reached the World Cup semi-final for the first time since Italia 90 as Harry Maguire and Dele Alli struck either side of the interval to beat Sweden in Samara.
Gareth Southgate’s side will now face Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday after overcoming a stubborn Sweden challenge in this quarter-final, with help from a magnificent display by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Maguire, outstanding once more, broke the deadlock on the half-hour when another England set-piece bore fruit – Leicester City’s powerful defender flashing a header past Sweden keeper Robin Olsen from Ashley Young’s corner.
Everton keeper Pickford then snuffed out Sweden’s hopes of recovery with a superb save from Marcus Berg, before England sealed their victory after 58 minutes when Alli headed in Jesse Lingard’s cross at the far post.
Pickford denied Viktor Claesson and then Berg one more time to secure his first World Cup clean sheet as England closed out this landmark win with something to spare.
Southgate and his England players repeated the scenes from the dramatic penalty shootout win over Colombia as they celebrated in front of joyous supporters at the final whistle – one step closer to history and with expectation levels raised once more as they stand one game away from football’s greatest occasion.
The Three Lions are in the last four for only the third time. They went on to win their home tournament in 1966 but lost to West Germany on penalties in 1990.
But the peculiar way this World Cup has shaped up means they will now play the team ranked 20th in the world for a place in the final – against either Belgium or France.
England lay down a marker
England not only reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since Italia 90, they did the job under the pressure of the occasion and the requirement to back up the victory over Colombia on penalties in the last 16 – with all of the mental toll that will have taken.
It was not the perfect performance by any means. They started sluggishly and surely gave goalkeeper Pickford far too much work to do for Southgate’s liking in the second half.
On this day, with expectation rising and the unmistakable feeling around this sweeping Samara Stadium that the World Cup is really reaching the business end, England delivered.
Southgate will, of course, want those flaws addressed – but when the World Cup reaches the knockout stage it is the result that counts and England have now won two knockout games after failing to taste victory in one for 12 years.
They have fallen short on so many occasions that an England team who rises to the occasion are worthy of the highest praise.
England, for all the talk, knew they had this history to contend with and it is to the credit of the calm and measured Southgate that he has not only led the team with such confidence and composure, but he has now guided one of the most inexperienced squads here in Russia to the last four.
Southgate and England deserve huge credit – and now those expectation levels will rise even more.