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World Cup 2018: 'England's best chance to reach semi-finals since 1990'

World Cup 2018: 'England's best chance to reach semi-finals since 1990'

Highlights: Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 pens)
2018 Fifa World Cup quarter-final: Sweden v England
Venue: Samara Arena, Samara Date: Saturday 7 July, 15:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC One and online; full radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and text commentary and in-play clips online and on BBC Sport app
England's players will only be allowed to bask briefly in the afterglow of the historic victory over Colombia that sent them into the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

Gareth Southgate's squad have elevated excitement among England followers to fever pitch as they prepare to face Sweden after their first knockout stage win at a major tournament since 2006, and only their second penalty shootout win in eight attempts.

Once the dust has settled on a thunderous night in Moscow, England must plot their next step at this unpredictable, spectacular World Cup.

England come back down to earth
England manager Southgate and his squad were straight back down to business at their Zelenogorsk training base on Wednesday after that atmospheric night.

And while an England squad that has impressed with its modesty and focus since its arrival in Russia is unlikely to get carried away by the win that sent them into the World Cup's last eight, Southgate will know it is now a case of all eyes on Sweden on Saturday.

England have their best chance to reach this sport's most prestigious occasion since the despair of losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-final in Turin at Italia 90.

Sweden's recent record confirms that complacency will be folly, but there is also no escaping that this group of England players - who survived the hothouse of Moscow's Spartak Stadium as the massed ranks of Colombian fans virtually took over the arena in a blaze of sound and fury - have been presented with what may just be a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.

England manager Gareth Southgate takes training
Eight players, including Marcus Rashford, trained the day after England's win over Colombia, with the remainder of the squad resting at the hotel
The next 10 days in Russia could be a case of now or never.

The draw, make no mistake, has fallen kindly for England and currently only Sweden, then Croatia or hosts Russia - suddenly riding a wave of national fervour after being dismissed before the tournament - stand between them and their first World Cup final since 1966.

England would not necessarily be favourites to achieve the feat, but their name goes alongside three teams they will genuinely feel capable of beating. And added intrigue comes with the fact all of those teams will feel equally the same. It is all up for grabs.

And while Southgate's mantra will continue to be 'one game at a time', he will know that the nation is now daring to dream.

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Southgate and his trusted backroom team will have been sifting through the physical and mental toll of that taxing night in Moscow, which even seasoned observers placed alongside the most tense England occasions they had witnessed.

It was a tension gloriously released as Eric Dier gave England victory having been agonisingly pegged back in added time at the end of the second half.

Southgate suggested there were plenty of knocks when he likened England's dressing room to a scene from the famous American army hospital series MASH.

He will have players with plenty of bumps and bruises.

What he will also have is a group of players who know that only two matches stand between England and football's ultimate game.

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England still have room for improvement
Southgate will not only take satisfaction from a win that came about in a manner which defied England's history, but he will know there is more to come from his team despite reaching the last eight.

England have still not hit top form in Russia - an observation some might find churlish, but one that is supported by the evidence of the four games they have played.

Tunisia were stubborn but limited and England only won in injury time. Panama were appalling. Belgium faced England's shadow squad - and there were still times when they drifted in what was an attritional, argumentative meeting with Colombia.

Harry Kane is the World Cup's top scorer with six goals, but once again it was a penalty that added to his tally. England's captain has been outstanding at this World Cup but he will be even better with more regular service.

The solid start: Tunisia 1-2 England
We believe: England 6-1 Panama
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Dele Alli struggled and looked short of fitness in Moscow. He is a class act who will give England what might be a vital extra dimension and threat if he kicks into gear.

And the Raheem Sterling enigma continues. No-one should ever question his attitude, effort, application and natural gifts but it simply is not happening for him in the attacking phases, with his sequence now reading 23 games without a goal for England.

Southgate, however, has huge faith in Sterling and that is unlikely to change now. Indeed, he even questioned why people were debating his position in England's team before the Colombia last-16 game.

Southgate will know that if these two players of such undoubted talent can turn the corner - and Sterling may just need one moment of luck to get the motor running - England will be much more of threat than they have been so far.

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Southgate's key men step up
Southgate's England selection is tailored exactly to match the requirements of the system - based around a three-man defence and progressive wing-backs - he settled upon more than 12 months ago.

And, apart from his obvious delight at England's advance into the quarter-finals, Southgate will take huge satisfaction from how his key players performed when the pressure was on in Moscow.

Southgate decided on Everton's Jordan Pickford as his goalkeeper, the 24-year-old having youth, agility and ability on his side - as well as huge confidence with the ball at his feet, a key component of the manager's game plan.

Pickford delivered superbly at Spartak Stadium, with a truly world-class save from Mateus Uribe that has been somewhat overlooked because Colombia equalised from the resulting corner, and that penalty save from Carlos Bacca.

Pickford suffered criticism after his display against Belgium - including suggestions from Belgium and Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois that he was too small - but he was perhaps ring rusty after being virtually unemployed against Tunisia and Panama. Every question was answered in Moscow.

Harry Maguire is the sort of central defender Southgate counts on - powerful and dangerous at set-pieces but with a willingness to bring the ball out of defence in the manner England's approach now demands.

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Maguire had his finest game in an England shirt in Moscow on a night which was a test of temperament for every player. He can now take huge confidence in his ability to thrive and feel at home in the World Cup environment.

And what more can be said about Kane?

Kane is the first England player to score in six consecutive appearances since Tommy Lawton in 1939. And he will be desperate to make it seven as he goes in search of the World Cup and the Golden Boot that he targeted even before England's first game.

Every team needs their main marksman to function at a World Cup. England have that and more in Kane - a reliable scorer, mature leader and a man with the coolest of temperaments, as proved by his penalties in open play and in the shootout.

All good news for Southgate as England move into World Cup territory that has been uncharted for 12 years.

England must beware the cool Swedes

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England now face a familiar foe in Sweden - a team some may feel have risen without trace at this World Cup but whose recent record carries warning signals and demands complete respect.

One long-time Sweden follower described this squad as humble, hard-working, superbly organised under the astute coach Janne Andersson and fully united as the charismatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic offers his observations from the sidelines.

Sweden are defensively sound and usually operate a 4-4-2 formation. Andreas Granqvist is their captain and central defensive foundation alongside Victor Lindelof, who has belied his struggles at Manchester United with his performances in Russia, demonstrating why Jose Mourinho was so keen to acquire him.

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Sweden-England quarter-final live on BBC - TV guide
They also have creativity from Emil Forsberg, but base camp for Sweden is a well-drilled and disciplined approach that England will find difficult to break down.

They have the confidence of eliminating the Netherlands in qualifying and beating Italy in a play-off to reach Russia. This is a team without fear of playing the elite names of international football.

Sweden's weakness is a lack of punch in attack, where 32-year-old Ola Toivonen is not even a regular at his club Toulouse. Markus Berg, who plays his football in the United Arab Emirates, is erratic.

As ever, though, Sweden's strength is the team collective and, under Andersson, will present England with a serious challenge in Samara.

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