Shearer says: “My message to England – more of the same boys.”
Three Lions legend previews Sweden quarter-final
The first thing to say is what a brilliant tournament it has been so far, the atmosphere has been fantastic.
And after all the scare stories coming into it, all I can say is that Moscow has been incredible, the people have been so friendly, the restaurants, bars, all so good.
Of course the football has been great too. Best of all, England are still in, and in with a hell of a shout!
Looking back at their game against Colombia, what was most impressive was the way that for 99% of the game, the England players kept their heads, as the Colombians spent the match trying to drag England down with their dirty tricks.
There was one exception with Jordan Henderson, but for an inexperienced team, to hold their nerve as they did, and not just with the penalties, but through extra time, having conceded that late goal, it showed real character.
To go through 120 minutes, and then win the penalty shootout, it was magnificent. For Marcus Rashford to take the penalty like he did, at his age, to put it away in the corner, showed real courage. They were all heroes, although it was nerve-wracking to watch!
It must be so satisfying for the manager, after all the work Gareth has put in, and I know he has focused and prepared for penalties, to see the team come through that, it justifies all the hard work.
I hope now it will banish the memory of his own penalty miss at Euro ’96, and he can be remembered for being the manager of the first England team to win a World Cup penalty shootout.
I don’t think we’re the best team in the tournament, but what we may lack in ability, we more than make up for in team spirit, and togetherness, and when you have that, you’ve always got a chance.
No time for complacency
Next up is Sweden, and if you’d said to Gareth Southgate at the start of this tournament you’d be playing Sweden in the quarter-final, he’d have snapped your hand off!
However, if there’s one thing this tournament has taught us, it’s not to take anything for granted – look at Germany, losing to South Korea, look at Spain, out to Russia, Japan, going two up against Belgium – so we cannot afford to be complacent.
Be confident, absolutely, have belief we’re going to get through, but don’t take anything for granted, and I’m sure Gareth won’t be.
My feeling is he might make a couple of changes. Dele Alli didn’t look a 100% fit and also took a knock so Loftus-Cheek could come in for him and he has a choice to make between Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.
One thing we do have to improve on is that of the nine goals we’ve scored so far, only two have come from open play.
This Sweden side will be very well organised, hard to break down, and they’ve kept three clean sheets in their four games, so that tells you all you need to know about the task facing England.
Sweden will play 4-4-2, they don’t have a lot of pace to them, but they will be tough to crack, and like England they will be a threat at set pieces.
England will have to be patient at times, but if they can get a good start, play with plenty of pace early on, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t go after Sweden, but we have to be careful, their coach will have them well set up, and they will be hard to break down.
England’s star men
Harry Kane has been magnificent in this tournament, the way he has handled himself, his opponents know he is a huge threat, and I’m sure he’s loving every minute of it!
He’s in that hot zone at the minute, where you just feel you’ll put everything away, everything is hitting the back of the net. I thought he was in that top echelon of world class players before this tournament, but he will leave Russia having proved it on a global stage.
He hadn’t scored a goal at a major tournament before now, but he’s announced himself in great style.
Other players have impressed me as well. Kieren Trippier has had an excellent tournament, and took a terrific penalty in the shootout.
In the main Jordan Henderson has done well and Harry Maguire has been excellent also. When teams are playing with one striker, he’s been able to bring the ball out, become an extra midfielder, he’s done that very well.
Jordan Pickford came in for a little bit of criticism after the Belgium game, but the way he came back in the Colombia game, with an incredible save late on, and then that penalty save, was brilliant.
My one message to the team ahead of the Sweden match is simple, more of the same boys. They look as if they are enjoying it, having fun, and embracing the challenge, so keep on like that.
The whole country is on the crest of a wave right now, we’re in Moscow but looking at social media and the TV coverage from home, we can see the impact it’s having.
It reminds me of the feeling we had in Euro ’96, the euphoria as we made it to the semi-finals, and that can have a positive effect on the players too.
Brazil and France look good, though
Brazil are the still the team to beat, but France were very impressive beating Argentina, and Croatia, who were my outsiders before a ball was kicked, have also looked good, with Luka Modric pulling the strings.
But my money would still be on Brazil at this moment in time. However, as an England fan, I am now incredibly excited about our chances.
Facing Sweden in the quarter-finals, Gareth Southgate and every England fan would have taken that before the tournament began.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but it does mean they have an incredible opportunity to get the to the World Cup semi-finals.