England are in dreamland after making it through to their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years thanks to goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli against stoic Sweden.
Days after laying their penalty ghosts to rest against Colombia, Gareth Southgate’s men diligently went about their job in Samara to continue this extraordinary summer and bring the fantasy of replicating the heroes of 1966 closer to reality.
Croatia or hosts Russia now await in just England’s third-ever World Cup semi-final, with headers either side of half-time by Maguire and Alli securing a comfortable 2-0 quarter-final win against surprise package Sweden.
The Three Lions followed manager Southgate’s advice to grab the chance of a lifetime and produced an industrious display that made a mockery of Swedish quips about entitlement in the build-up.
Maguire epitomises the graft this squad have put in over the years and headed home his first international goal after 30 minutes, continuing his rapid ascent from fan in France at Euro 2016 to England hero in Russia.
Alli has also come up the hard way and helped put a frustrating tournament behind him by wrapping things up after team-mate Raheem Sterling wasted chances and Jordan Pickford superbly denied Sweden’s Marcus Berg.
Fresh from his heroics in Tuesday’s shootout, the goalkeeper’s latest fine display helped England keep their first clean sheet of the tournament as this band of brothers reached the semi-final without incurring a suspension or any real injury concerns.
It was a mature display after the 120-minute slog against Colombia, with Southgate plumping for an unchanged side on an afternoon when those exertions initially took their toll.
Viktor Claesson’s hopeful effort from distance was the best rudimentary Sweden managed in a scrappy opening, but the Three Lions were doing little better as Alli overhit a through ball after snatching possession off over-confident Emil Krafth.
It took 19 minutes for their first shot as Sterling slalomed through and Harry Kane swept a first-time shot low and just wide.
England sent in some crosses after but those signs of life were fleeting as Sweden’s resolute team shape strangled a side sloppy in possession.
Thankfully for Southgate’s men, they are a dab hand at set pieces and their first corner brought the opening goal.
Ashley Young’s delivery from the left was good but Maguire deserved the credit, tossing aside Emil Forsberg to power a header past Robin Olsen in the 30th minute.
England maintained composure following a goal that Sterling could – and perhaps should – have added to before the break.
Shortly after being closed out in a dangerous position, the forward was put through and surely relieved to belatedly see an offside flag he was guilty of looking for before being denied one-on-one by Olsen.
The Sweden goalkeeper again frustrated Sterling in the dying embers of the half by thwarting his latest attempt to round him following a fine Jordan Henderson pass.
This time he was onside but perhaps clouded by his long wait for a goal, Sterling decided against passing to an open team-mate and instead saw a shot deflected behind by Andreas Granqvist.
At least England had proved a goal threat, whereas Sweden’s blunt attack failed to muster a shot on target until two minutes of the restart.
A fine cross from the left found Berg at the far post, with his powerful header forcing an outstanding one-handed stop out of Pickford.
It was a warning shot England responded brightly to as Maguire’s power in the air continued to concern, as did Sterling’s directness.
Henderson claimed a penalty before Jesse Lingard unlocked the Swedish backline.
A long-time favourite of Southgate, his clipped a first-time cross to the back post and Alli had space to head firmly past Olsen in front of the hardy England support.
Delight would have been short-lived had England’s Jordans not denied Claesson in quick succession, with Pickford’s impressive save met by a key block to the follow-up by Henderson.
England’s goalkeeper tipped over a Berg attempt as the match entered the final 20 minutes, which Southgate’s men saw out without major incident thanks to impressive game management.
Next stop: a World Cup semi-final on Wednesday in Moscow.