A World Cup semi-final spot is up for grabs on Saturday afternoon when England and Sweden battle it out in Samara. Adam Goodwin (@agjournalism) shares his best bets.
England v Sweden | Saturday 7th July 2018, 15:00 | BBC
England reached their first World Cup quarter final in 12 years thanks to a penalty shootout win over Colombia. Despite missing the first penalty, a stunning Jordan Pickford save kept them in the tie, and Eric Dier netted the winner from the spot.
Sweden scraped past Switzerland in their Round of 16 game and won 1-0 thanks to a deflected Emil Forsberg strike. Switzerland dominated the game but a solid defensive showing ensured that the Swedes kept a clean sheet and eased their way into the quarter-finals.
The Three Lions seemed comfortable throughout most of the game and, without creating many chances, didn’t look in any danger of throwing away their 1-0 lead. But a 90th minute Yerry Mina header forced the game into extra time – and the rest is history.
Gareth Southgate may be slightly concerned that the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling failed to have a significant impact on the game, but as long as Harry Kane continues to score goals, England should be fine. Whether one of them should be replaced by Marcus Rashford for this game will be a conundrum Southgate has to contemplate, with the Manchester United striker offering more pace and directness in attacking areas. Jamie Vardy is a doubt, however, after suffering a groin injury in the Colombia game, stopping him from taking the fifth and final England penalty.
Since 1998, 45% of World Cup quarter-finals have been won by favourites and, with England currently around 19/20, it looks promising for them. But just 15% of quarter-finals since 1998 have been won by two or more goals, so don’t expect England to run away with this game, especially with Sweden’s solid defensive record.
Sweden have only scored two or more goals in one game at this World Cup, and that was their final group game against Mexico. From the six goals they’ve scored, two have been penalties, one has been an own goal and both Toivenen’s and Forsberg’s goals against Germany and Switzerland were also deflected in. Whilst they’ve played well during most of this World Cup, you have to put some of their success down to good fortune.
Striker Marcus Berg has had 13 shots at this World Cup and is still yet to break his duck. A miscued shot that went embarrassingly wide of the goal summed up his tournament and he’ll need to find his shooting boots if Sweden are to progress to the semi-finals.
However, Janne Andersson has his side set up to be defensively resolute and the only two goals they’ve conceded so far have been against World Champions Germany. They’ve sat deep and restricted teams to getting in and around the penalty area – this has led to their opposition having 48% of their shots from outside of the area. Right-back Mikael Lustig picked up another yellow card against Switzerland which means he’s banned for the England game, which is a huge blow for a defence that’s been so dependable.
You have to look at the lack of venom in Sweden’s attack, and despite not keeping a clean sheet yet, you’d fancy England to keep Janne Andersson’s side at bay on Saturday. The back-three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire has looked solid and will feel comfortable against a front two of Ola Toivenen and Marcus Berg who lack any real pace.
England to win to nil at 9/5 looks a cracking price with Betfred and it’s one of my favourite bets at this World Cup so far.
England v Sweden – England to win to nil (9/5 Befred)