England’s miraculous penalty shootout victory over Colombia will forever be etched into the collective consciousness. For many England fans, seeing Eric Dier put the ball in the back of the net was more akin to a religious experience than a football match. It felt like a curse had been lifted, and after years of disappointment, England fans could finally allow themselves to dream of World Cup glory.
The problem is.. we’re not the only country currently infected by a wave of unbridled excitement.
Belgium fans are brimming with confidence, the Russians feel that home support and good fortune can take them all the way to the final, and the French are already planning an open top bus tour of Paris.
In fact, the only team that seem to have been completely written off are Sweden. Nobody expected them to beat Mexico or South Korea, or top their group, or beat Switzerland in the round of 16. Yet here we are, two games from the final of the FIFA World Cup, frantically preparing for what should be a routine victory over our Scandinavian cousins. A match against a team with no obvious forwards. A team that play counter-attacking football without any real pace. A physical team that don’t impose themselves on their opponents.
There doesn’t appear to be a clear formula to Sweden’s success, and this is perhaps what makes them such tricky opponents. “Everything about them is difficult,” said Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from Russia 2018, it’s that will power can go along way. Gareth Southgate will have spent the last few days preparing his players for another unique challenge, but ultimately, the match may be decided by luck, bravery, and determination.
“Sweden are often underestimated and I have real respect for Sweden.” said Gareth Southgate.
“They are always more than the sum of their parts. Our historic record against them is another one we have to put right.
“But I think we have always viewed them at our level and I don’t think that’s right because their tournament record is better than ours.”