Harry Maguire’s name has a familiar ring to it for those who whet their appetite with Hollywood movies. Surely, he is far more real and has been a pillar of strength marshalling England’s heart of defence with John Stones. An aberration from the much-maligned English style of kicking the ball up field even under no pressure, the pair showed against Colombia that they are ball playing centre backs.
On Saturday, in the World Cup quarterfinal against Sweden in Samara, Maguire stepped up some 80 yards from the England penalty box and posted himself right on the penalty spot, waiting for Ashley Young’s corner. The ball was floated in and Maguire met it with a bullet header after a strong jump.
It broke the deadlock and more importantly injected life into the match after 30 minutes of insipid affair that almost lulled into sleep even the most ardent English fan.
Janne Andersson’s Sweden had been defying logic and reason for two years. They knocked out the Netherlands in their qualifying group and snuffed life out of four-time World Cup-winners Italy in playoffs. All these milestones reached with defenders Andreas Granqvist, Viktor Lindelof and striker Marcus Berg. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was conspicuously absent from this fighting unit of average talent but wolfish hunger. England coach Gareth Southgate read Sweden’s weaknesses correctly. The Scandinavians get jittery in face of the aerial ball and scared when players run towards them.
Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling had just the right mix of pace and trickery to keep the Swedes on their heels. If Sterling could keep his wits about him, Robin Olsen’s citadel would have fallen once more before the end of the first session. It did not take long though, after the changeover. This time the Swedes failed to defend Lingard’s hit cross from the right that was seen coming from miles. Dele Alli arrived at the far post, as usual unnoticed, and nodded home to the delight of the English fans, now alive and shouting out their years of discontent. They have suddenly realized it’s better to follow a resurgent ‘team’ than ego-friendly stars.
If the England attackers exploited the opposition’s aerial weakness, Jordan Pickford showed that his heroics against Colombia under the bar was not a flash in the pan. Diving to his left, he stopped Berg’s header and denied Swedes from getting an equalizer and a renewed will to fight. With Jordan Henderson’s timely and courageous intervention, Pickford could keep his net free from any disturbance after Viktor Claesson planned a coup from 10 yards. The goalkeeper parried the shot and Henderson blocked the recoil.
To spoil an almost perfect outing, Maguire’s adrenalin got the better of his senses. He walked into the referee’s book for kicking the ball away in frustration after being penalised for a foul on John Guidetti. An offence he must avoid to spend more time on the pitch to defend England. Southgate has actually kept it quite simple and managed his limited resources brilliantly so far. Deliberately snipping away all frills, he anointed Harry Kane, the guy with the coolest head, as captain.
There are no props to England’s game. It’s all real as they earned a passage to the World Cup semifinals after a 28-year long wait. Since Chris Waddle skied his penalty in Turin against West Germany, England never felt this good as Sweden’s fairytale came to an end. When their disappointment will run its course, they will feel proud of their run in World Cup 2018. Source : timesofindia