REPINO, Russia (Reuters) - England take on Sweden in Samara on Saturday with a place in the World Cup semi-finals at stake, and while some may be surprised to see the Scandinavians in the last eight, defender John Stones says they cannot be underestimated.
The fact that England needed extra time and penalties to defeat Colombia in the last 16 shows that while the supposedly easier half of the draw may not have the heavyweight names, it is still going to produce tight contests.
“There are no easy games. I think if you say it’s an easy game in a quarter-final of a World Cup, then you are pretty stupid to say that,” said Stones.
“They’ve got a lot of quality. They play very structured from the back, sit quite deep from what we’ve seen, and we know what we’re up against.
“Sometimes they can throw you these teams, they can go kind of under the radar, but there is no question they are a good team. They wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t,” he said.
The highlight of Sweden’s campaign so far was beating Mexico 3-0 to top its group, and Janne Andersson’s side then won a tight contest with Switzerland in the last 16.
Sweden have, of course, enjoyed some memorable World Cup campaigns in the past — reaching the final on home soil in 1958 where they lost to Brazil and then the semi-finals in 1994 where again the South Americans ended their dreams.
Swedish captain Andreas Granqvist isn’t worried about England enjoying the greater possession and expects his team to stick to their tried and tested approach.
“If you look at the games we have played, the opponent has had more ball possession than we have, but we have created more chances, more dangerous chances,” Granqvist said.
“This is how we play, this is what we need to do, this is our strength, and we also need to see our quality against other strong teams. This is the way for us to have success, and we’re going to continue this way”.
England could be without substitute striker Jamie Vardy who has a groin injury, but they are hoping that left-back Ashley Young’s ankle knock won’t keep him on the sidelines and that midfielder Dele Alli’s thigh injury isn’t a major problem.
The last time the pair met in a competitive fixture was at the European Championship in 2012, when Roy Hodgson’s England won 3-2 thanks to a Danny Welbeck winner.
Overall from 24 meetings, England have won eight to Sweden’s seven, with nine games ending in a draw.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson