England reached the World Cup semi-final for the first time since Italia 90 as Harry Maguire and Dele Alli struck either side of the interval to beat Sweden in Samara.
Gareth Southgate’s side will now face either Croatia or hosts Russia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday after overcoming a stubborn Sweden challenge in this quarter-final, with help from a magnificent display by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Maguire, outstanding once more, broke the deadlock on the half-hour when another England set-piece bore fruit – Leicester City’s powerful defender flashing a header past Sweden keeper Robin Olsen from Ashley Young’s corner.
Everton keeper Pickford then snuffed out Sweden’s hopes of recovery with a superb save from Marcus Berg, before England sealed their victory after 58 minutes when Alli headed in Jesse Lingard’s cross at the far post.
Pickford denied Viktor Claesson and then Berg one more time to secure his first World Cup clean sheet as England closed out this landmark win with something to spare.
Southgate and his England players repeated the scenes from the dramatic penalty shootout win over Colombia as they celebrated in front of joyous supporters at the final whistle – one step closer to history and with expectation levels raised once more as they stand one game away from football’s greatest occasion.
England will discover their semi-final opponents later, with Russia and Croatia kicking off at 19:00 BST.
The Three Lions are in the last four for only the third time. They went on to win their home tournament in 1966 but lost to West Germany on penalties in 1990.
But the peculiar way this World Cup has shaped up means they will now play the team ranked 20th or 70th in the world for a place in the final – against either Belgium or France.
England not only reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since Italia 90, they did the job under the pressure of the occasion and the requirement to back up the victory over Colombia on penalties in the last 16 – with all of the mental toll that will have taken.
It was not the perfect performance by any means. They started sluggishly and surely gave goalkeeper Pickford far too much work to do for Southgate’s liking in the second half.
On this day, with expectation rising and the unmistakable feeling around this sweeping Samara Stadium that the World Cup is really reaching the business end, England delivered.
Southgate will, of course, want those flaws addressed – but when the World Cup reaches the knockout stage it is the result that counts and England have now won two knockout games after failing to taste victory in one for 12 years.
They have fallen short on so many occasions that an England team who rises to the occasion are worthy of the highest praise.
England, for all the talk, knew they had this history to contend with and it is to the credit of the calm and measured Southgate that he has not only led the team with such confidence and composure, but he has now guided one of the most inexperienced squads here in Russia to the last four.
Southgate and England deserve huge credit – and now those expectation levels will rise even more.
I am glad that those that deserted us, fought us,insulted us,persecuted us and derided us for supporting @GEJonathan in 2015 are now singing that they are coming back “home” to PDP. Their error of judgement,lack of foresight and love affair with Buhari cost the nation dearly.
The 2018 World Cup opened in spectacular fashion as Russia defied their recent poor form to score five past Saudi Arabia and record the biggest win by the host nation in the opening game of a World Cup since 1934.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s team had not won in their past seven matches and had been criticised from all sides, including a series of barbed comments from Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But in front of a largely partisan crowd of 78,011 at the Luzhniki Stadium they never looked in danger against a naïve Green Falcons’ side that seemed only too willing to gift possession to their opponents.
A completely unmarked Yuri Gazinsky headed his first goal for Russia before substitute Denis Cheryshev evaded several weak challenges and smashed home at the near post close to half-time.
The tempo slowed and the atmosphere flattened after the restart, giving the whole thing the feel of a friendly match.
But substitute Artem Dzyuba illuminated a match of often dubious quality with a precise header to extend his team’s lead just minutes after replacing Fedor Smolov.
And as the match moved into injury time the impressive Cheryshev smashed home with a crisp strike into the top corner before the superb Aleksandr Golovin curled a free-kick around the wall.
It put the seal on a sensational and unexpected start to the World Cup for the hosts – and gives them a real chance of qualifying from the group stage.
Singer Robbie Williams performed during a colourful opening ceremony before the match, marking the start of a feast of football that will see 64 games played at 12 venues over the next month.
Williams went through several of his biggest hits in front of a largely appreciative crowd that featured football fans from all over the world as well as a large Russian contingent.
A lengthy address from Putin was followed by a short speech from FIFA President Gianni Infantino – but eventually the words ended and the football finally began.
Russia went into the match ranked 70th in the world, three places below their opponents, and with a side ravaged by injury problems.
Key forward Alexander Kokorin plus defenders Georgi Dzhikiya and Viktor Vasin have all succumbed to knee injuries this year – with the lack of options seeing Cherchesov dragging 38-year-old centre back Sergei Ignashevich out of retirement and into the side.
It had led the Moscow Times to proclaim the team was “doomed to fail”, while another sports writer said only “a miracle” could save Russia.
But they were the vastly superior team on a mild Moscow evening, repeatedly overrunning opponents who were simply unable to handle their physical threat and determination.
The impressive Golovin provided the crosses for the headed goals and Roman Zobnin went close with a low strike that Abdullah Al-Mayoof saved low down.
Cheryshev was excellent too, running down the left flank with a real sense of purpose, as Russia put in a performance that gives them a renewed sense of purpose as they try to get out of a group that will provide much sterner tests against Egypt and Uruguay.
There was nobody of the calibre of Mohamed Salah and Luis Suarez on the pitch on Thursday, and the ageing Ignashevich can expect a much rougher ride in the next two games.
And there was one sour note for the home side when Alan Dzagoev limped off with what looked like a hamstring injury midway through the first half.
But on a night when they were under serious pressure to deliver, Russia got their campaign up and running in emphatic fashion.
Source: BBC Sport