England does not particularly care, really, how ‘it’ comes home. Harry Kane penalties or Harry Maguire headers work just fine.
On Saturday it was the latter — and a second goal by Dele Alli — that carried England past Sweden, 2-0, and into the World Cup semifinals.
The ‘it,’ of course, is the World Cup trophy, and it is now closer than it has been in a generation to coming back to England: home to soccer’s rules, to its best professional league, and to important parts of the game’s history.
For a week now, England fans worldwide have clung to a new slogan — “It’s coming home” — as a rallying cry for their desire to claim a second World Cup title, and the nation’s first since 1966.
On the strength of Maguire’s first-half head and Alli’s after the break, they are two victories away. England’s path next heads to Moscow, where it will play the Russia-Croatia survivor on Wednesday at the Luzhniki Stadium. If that goes well, they’ll return four days later for the final.
The victory over Sweden was hardly poetry, nor did it produce any of the drama that had marked recent games in the tournament’s knockout rounds, or even England’s penalty-kick shootout victory over Colombia on Tuesday in its previous match.
But it delighted the England fans who turned up in Samara to sing “God Save the Queen” and wonder if this, finally, might be the year.
The team, one of the youngest in the tournament, and full of friendly and diverse players, has caught its nation’s attention.
“We are a team with our diversity and youth that represents modern England,” England Manager Gareth Southgate said recently.
Streets around England grew quieter when the game began, and even Wimbledon’s Center Court was dotted with empty seats for matches on Saturday as fans ducked out to watch their team boss around the Swedes. They saw two more goals, and a few more saves from the 24-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who helped the team post its first shutout of the tournament.
That, too, was a sign that this England might be getting better as the field of contenders narrows. The next test comes Wednesday, in England’s first World Cup semifinal since 1990.