If ever there was a sign that this particular World Cup is not following established lore, then England’s penalties win over Colombia in the round of 16 must surely be it.
Indeed, in a tournament that has seen Germany dumped out in the group stage, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi utterly upstaged, and Belgium’s steely unity more noteworthy than their individual talents, that England’s success from the spot has been such a surprise only serves to demonstrate how deeply the contrary is engrained in World Cup history.
On Saturday afternoon, England will try to rewrite expectation even more when they attempt to ditch the dreaded ‘quarter-final team’ tag and overcome Sweden to book a place in the World Cup semi-finals.
There are, essentially, two important points to note here. Firstly, England will be thrilled to be in a position where by Sweden are all that stands between them and a place in the last four of the World Cup and, secondly, Sweden will be fancying their chances of progression just as much.
There can be little doubt that we are seeing a brand new England in Russia 2018. The rigidity of 4-4-2 has gone, as has the technical inferiority complex that has seen direct counter-attacking football adopted in the past.
What we have seen so far this summer has been a fresh, energetic, tactically sophisticated and technically sound England. We are seeing an England who look to dominate possession and assert their football on the opposition. We are seeing a confident, modern England who the rest of the world are starting to take seriously.
Of course, the irony in that is that, in Sweden, England will face a rigid 4-4-2 that will look to play direct football on the counter-attack. Question marks for football betting enthusiasts will, therefore exist over whether England have the patience to break down a disciplined Sweden, and the stats highlight just how difficult that may be.
Sweden have made just 1113 passes in the World Cup so far, an average of 278 per game, compared to England’s 2140 (535 per game). Even taking into account England’s 30 extra minutes of playing time, the difference is striking.
Furthermore, despite spending so much time without the ball, Sweden have committed just 55 fouls in the tournament so far and are one of just 13 teams out of the 32 involved in Russia to have yet to concede a penalty, which serves to speak very highly of their discipline. In other words, Sweden have shown they are willing to be patient, and so England will have to match that, making 888sport’s 29/20 for a goalless first half suddenly appear very attractive.
With three penalties awarded so far, no team has benefited more from VAR’s eagle eye than England. Sweden aren’t far behind though with two, meaning that 33% of the total goals scored between these two teams in Russia have come from the spot. Considering how tight a game we are expecting, Karamba’s 10/1 for the first goal to come from a penalty may just be too good to refuse.
Set-pieces in general are likely to be important, with England proving especially efficient at threatening from free-kicks and corners. Karamba will give you 4/1 on a header providing the first goal and, for those of you in a daring mood, their 21/1 on an own goal to break the deadlock looks like being a really fun punt. Either way, it’ll probably be something scrappy and ugly to get us up and running in Samara.
Ultimately, though, there is a reason why England are favourites to win this one. The 10/11 with top football betting sites for England to win the game is just about the best odds you’ll get, while there are even shorter odds for England to qualify. England possess the greater quality and they hold all of the initiative due to their new-found love of possession football.
All it will take is one England goal to force Sweden’s game plan out of the window, and should the game open up you would strongly fancy the Three Lions to make their extra quality count. The result of this one may be decided by who gets that first goal.
If England get it, Ladbrokes’ offer of 7/1 on an England 2-0 win looks like the kind of market worth looking it as they break the Scandinavians’ resistance and pinch a second once the game opens up.
Should you fancy Sweden to get their noses ahead, though, 33/4 with Bethard on England drowning in frustration and losing 1-0 looks a great place to put your money.