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Harry Maguire and Dele Ali book England’s semi-final place

SAMARA Russia (Xinhua) -- England qualified for the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 28 years on Saturday with a 2-0 win against Sweden thanks to a 30th minute goal from Harry Maguire and a 59th minute goal from midfielder Dele Ali.

Maguire opened the scoring with a powerful header from a corner taken by the impressive Kieran Trippier, and the right back was again the supplier as Ali’s header doubled England’s lead just before the hour.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford also made a telling contribution with three magnificent saves to deny Viktor Claesson and Marcos Berg as Sweden looked to get back into the game.


Heroes a plenty in Samara as England qualify for the
World Cup semifinals for the first time in 28 years

By Paul Giblin SAMARA Russia (Xinhua) -- The city of Samara, so closely linked to the Russian space program, has had its share of heroes over the years and there plenty of the city’s high-rise blocks with murals of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space on their sides. Just for a short time on Saturday, however, Gagarin was no longer the biggest hero for England fans in Samara and they could be forgiven for thinking a painting of Harry Maguire would very nice on the side of one of those buildings.

Maguire rose like the Soyuz rocket that stands in the main street of Samara to power Kieran Trippier’s corner into the Swedish net after half an hour to open the scoring as England beat Sweden 2-0 to qualify for the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

England have other candidates for a mural: goalkeeper Jordan Pickford built on his penalty save against Colombia with 3 vital stops to keep the Swedes at bay, while full back Trippier produced two assists and Jordan Henderson was both a dynamo and calming influence in midfield.

With Dele Ali and Ashley Young recovered from slight physical issues during the week, England named an unchanged side, while Emil Krafth replaced the suspended Mikael Lustig for Sweden and Seb Larsson returned after suspension.

The game got off to a cagey start with Sweden’s 4-4-2 setup closing down spaces in midfield, while England’s timid probing for a way through wasn’t helped by some wayward passes, with Dele Ali too often the guilty party.

It wasn’t until the 19th minute that England created a chance as Raheem Sterling’s run from halfway set up Kane to fire narrowly wide from 25 yards, shortly before Trippier’s low cross was smothered by Robin Olsen as England appeared to come to life, with the tricky Sterling and the right back at the heart of their best moves.

Half an hour in Trippier’s cross was put out for a corner which Maguire headed powerfully into the net. It was the eighth goal England have scored from a set piece in the tournament.

Sterling should have increased England’s lead after finding space behind the Swedish defense, but Olsen got down well to force him wide.

Sweden had created nothing in the first half, but it needed a fine save from Pickford to stop Marcus Berg’s powerful header in the first minute after the break. It was a huge moment; England breathed again and resumed control.

In the 59th minute a patient move ended with Trippier crossing from the right and Ali peeled off at the far post to plant a powerful header past Olsen to make it 2-0.

Then it was Pickford’s turn with another stunning save to deny Claesson as Sweden looked certain to score, before he tipped Berg’s effort over the bar as England suffered a brief wobble before seeing the game comfortably over the line.


No room for egos as Southgate’s ‘Band of Brothers’ marches on

By Paul Giblin SAMARA Russia (Xinhua) -- England captain Harry Kane spoke of a “band of brothers” when he addressed the press on the eve of England’s 2-0 win over Sweden in the Samara Arena on Saturday afternoon. He spoke of a squad of players who will do anything for each other and who want to work and to learn.

With six goals so far in the World Cup, Kane is the leader of the England side on and off the pitch, but on Saturday, although he worked hard and led the attack intelligently, he wasn’t the hero; England had plenty of heroes.

One of the achievements of coach Gareth Southgate is to take a young side and to give belief in a set of players, some of whom play for the biggest clubs in the Premier League and others at smaller outfits.

Two years ago central defender Harry Maguire was celebrating helping Hull City to the Premier League by following England in the 2016 European Championships, now at Leicester City after suffering relegation with Hull a year ago, he is on the way to being one of the players of the tournament.

Goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, whose save in the penalty shootout against Colombia changed the fortunes of a generation of England sides, made three more outstanding saves to keep Sweden at bay in Samara.

A season ago he was part of a Sunderland side which suffered the heartbreak of relegation, while his start to this season at Everton was far from easy as his new club struggled for form.

Meanwhile right back Kieran Trippier, who came to Russia with barely a handful of caps, has established himself as a key player in the team: not just for his pace in defense, but for his countless forward runs and his crossing.

It was Trippier’s 30th minute header that Maguire thundered into the net, rising like a Soyuz rocket to give Robin Olsen no chance and England a vital opening goal against a side that was giving little away.

Just before the hour Trippier was again the provider with the cross that saw Dele Ali double England’s lead.

Others are finding maturity under Southgate; John Stones hardly put a foot wrong in central defense where Kyle Walker showed pace and awareness in a role he doesn’t usually play and Jordan Henderson is mature an hard working in midfield, providing a perfect foil as Jesse Lingard flits and probes for openings.

“We are one of the youngest teams here, but we are an improving side and want to make history. We are an emerging side, an evolving side: a long way from perfect,” said England coach Gareth Southgate.

They are also a side that shows unity, both with each other and also with the fans, maybe because that unity they show among themselves touches a chord that recent England sides, aloof and distant and ultimately underachieving failed to touch.


Fire alarm means early start for Swedes on quarter-final day

SAMARA Russia (Xinhua) -- Sweden’s preparations for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final were interrupted this morning when the fire alarm went off at their team hotel.

The alarm at the Lotte hotel in the center of Samara sounded at 8.30 am local time leading the building and surrounding buildings to be evacuated and video images show members of the Sweden team and other guests in the lobby of the building.

It was a false alarm, which was caused by someone either smoking in their room or hitting the alarm button by accident, but not the best way to start preparations on the day of a big match. 


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