England take on familiar foes Sweden on Saturday afternoon, fighting for a place in the last four of the World Cup.
Here, Press Association Sport assesses some of the main issues as Gareth Southgate’s side chase a first semi-final spot since 1990.
Fighting fit or walking wounded?
England go into the game on the back of a long, tense and bruising clash with Colombia. Not only did the game go the full 120 minutes, as well as the emotional anxiety of penalties, it also included some punishing treatment from the South Americans. Jamie Vardy’s groin injury appears to be the most problematic issue but the likes of Ashley Young, Dele Alli and Kyle Walker also had exacting evenings in Moscow. Monitoring will continue on all players before Southgate selects his team and, in the heat of Samara, it will soon become apparent if England are short of peak condition.
Time for a shutout
Amid the Three Lions’ buoyant surge to the last eight, it is easy to forget they have yet to keep a clean sheet. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford still managed to win his place in the nation’s hearts with his brilliant penalty save against Colombia, while Harry Maguire and John Stones have earned glowing reviews for their performances to date. What they are missing is a complete defensive performance that keeps the opposition off the scoresheet. What better time to produce than a World Cup quarter-final?
Can Sweden solve England’s corner puzzle?
One of the defining features of England’s campaign to date has been their efficiency from the corner flag. Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young’s delivery has been consistently dangerous, leaving defenders to scrap in a variety of unedifying ways with danger man Harry Kane. Ill-discipline in the box has already earned England three goals from the spot and Sweden must know they cannot afford to add to the tally.
Snipers target slow ball at the back
England showed admirable commitment to playing from the back in their last 16 success, diligently building breaks even as Colombia’s pacy front line pressed hard. It is understood Sweden have identified the tactic as a source of weakness and believe the back three move the ball too ponderously. Expect a high line and pressure on the trio to make a mistake. Sweden will gamble energy and numbers on forcing an error and the likes of Stones, who has previous, must not oblige.
Sterling’s time to shift the narrative
Raheem Sterling’s status as lightning rod for any lingering frustrations with England’s tactics, performance or personnel appears to be undiminished. He has not scored for his country in more than 1000 days now, and his finishing clearly remains ripe for improvement. But a dispassionate appraisal of his contribution in Russia speaks of a sparky, hard-working forward whose pace and movement unnerves opponents as well as winning both free-kicks and space for others. He only lacks a defining performance, a moment in the spotlight, but for a player so trusted by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City that seems overdue.