England are relishing their best chance to reach their first World Cup semifinals since 1990. Enamored by their 4-3 penalty shootout victory over Colombia – only the second ever at a major tournament, the Three Lions are oozing confidence ahead of Saturday’s quarter final with Sweden. However, for Gareth Southgate’s young guns to avoid being ambushed, there are five areas they must watch out for.
1- Disregard Fifa rankings:
The English media is awash with stories about how the draw has opened up for England. It’s true the Three Lion’s Fifa ranking of twelfth is the highest in their side of the draw. But while opponents Sweden are 24th and potential semifinalists Croatia and Russia are ranked 20th and 70th respectively, this World Cup has proved that rankings mean nothing on match day. In fact, out of the top ten ranked countries in the world, only Brazil (2) and Belgium (3) reached the quarters. The solution is for England’s camp to ban access to all media over the next 24 hours. At this point in time, media hype is a distraction to Southgate and his players.
2- Forget past records:
Fact – England have only beaten Sweden twice in their last ten matches. Does it matter? Yes, because it points to a potential mental block that must be overcome. The only way around this is for Southgate to order his players to live in the present. England have the better individual players and superior team unit. The manner in which Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Delle Ali are scrapping and thriving off each other in midfield is a joy to behold. They simply need to continue in the same vein.
3- Get Hurricane Kane involved:
England front man Harry Kane has one hand on the Golden Boot. His six goals at Russia 2018 put him in prime position to match compatriot Gary Lineker’s feat as the last Englishman to win the award (Mexico ’86). But for England to thrive best, Kane must be more involved in matches. Let’s not forget, three of his goals have come from penalty kicks (higher conversion rate than Ronaldo and Messi). To help England win the tournament and therefore bag the Fifa Ballon D’Or, the England captain must now take his game to the next level by having more touches, covering more distance and drawing more fouls from Sweden’s fabled back four.
4- Converting early pressure into leads:
I am yet to watch a World Cup game in which England have started on the back foot. The 1966 World Cup winners have swamped all comers with superior pace, intensity and chances created. Only the first half conversion rate has been wanting. To press home the advantage over a Sweden side noted for their ability to conjure up results from minimum possession, England must improve their conversion rate in the first half. Inter related to that, they must avoid falling behind as they’ve lost the only game in which they went a goal down to Belgium.
5- Watch aerial prowess:
Seasoned English Premier League observers consider it an affront each time England concede in the air. This is because aerial prowess is a football fundamental that should come naturally to Englishmen. Kyle Walker’s kamikaze attempt at a headed clearance against Tunisia which resulted in a penalty should have served as a warning. But England still allowed Colombia’s Yerry Mina a headed goal. All England’s big men, especially Harry Maguire, Harry Kane and John Stones must watch out for William Granqvist, Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen who are lethal in the air.
If the Three Lions can go about all the five areas above, come Saturday night, they will only be two games a way from a first World Cup crown since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Remit trophy at Wembly 52 years ago.