SAMARA, Russia — England achieved something David Beckham’s generation never managed: It reached the semifinals of the World Cup.
Harry Maguire and Dele Alli scored with headers in a 2-0 win over Sweden on Saturday, earning England’s youthful team a match against Croatia for a place in the final on July 15.
“We looked composed,” England captain Harry Kane said. “We looked like we controlled the game.”
England’s fairly muted celebrations reflected the routine nature of the victory over a hard-working Swedish side that had already gone further than expected in its first major tournament without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
England’s deep run also is a surprise. Not even the England side containing stars like Beckham, Steven Gerrard and a young Wayne Rooney ever got this far at a major tournament.
The 1966 World Cup champions last reached the semifinals in 1990, losing the first of a series of haunting penalty shootouts. In 2014, the team didn’t even make it out of the group stage.
Yet the performances of Gareth Southgate’s squad — the second youngest at the tournament — are being celebrated wildly back home. Even at Wimbledon, the home of lawn tennis, updates of England’s goals were spread by fans watching or listening to the match on their cell phones.
“I know the fans here are enjoying it,” Kane said. “The fans at home, I’m sure we’ll see some videos tonight of them enjoying it.”
The chant of “On our way, on our way, to Moscow, on our way” came from England fans in one corner of the Samara Arena throughout the match, and the team’s march to the Russian capital is being fuelled by goals from set pieces.
There was another against Sweden, with Maguire heading in a driven corner from Ashley Young in the 30th minute. It was England’s eighth set-piece goal of its 11 in Russia, and the center back’s first in international soccer.
The standard of England’s crossing has particularly stood out this tournament, and Alli added the second goal by meeting a far-post cross from midfielder Jesse Lingard with a powerful header in the 59th. At 22, Alli became the second-youngest scorer for England at a World Cup behind Michael Owen.
“We knew set plays would be key,” Maguire said. “And also that little ball that Jesse sent in for Dele, that was great. We worked on that in practice.”
It proved to be a match too far for the Swedes, who advanced further than they ever did with Ibrahimovic — the team’s star for more than a decade — by being compact and hard to break down. That helped them win a two-leg playoff against Italy to get to the World Cup, top a group containing Germany, and then beat Switzerland in the round of 16.
They began solidly against England in a slow and sloppy start to the game that resembled a pre-season friendly at times, only to be outdone by a goal Sweden isn’t used to conceding.
“Up until that corner, I felt that we had everything under control,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “I felt that we had the match in our hands.”
Although Sweden rallied in the final 30 minutes, forcing two good saves from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, England comfortably held on for its first shutout of the tournament.
SOCHI, Russia — Nyet this time.
Although Russia made it further at this year’s World Cup than most anyone expected, it was Croatia that advanced to the semifinals with a 4-3 shootout victory following a 2-2 draw.
The overachieving hosts, the lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 70, were trying to make it to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since the Soviet Union finished fourth at the 1966 tournament in England.
Even Russian President Vladimir Putin was taken in by the host nation’s surprising run, at least according to Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
“Putin called me during the day, and he called me right now,” Cherchesov said. “He congratulated us on a very good game. He said what we showed on the field was great. I told him we were disappointed. He said we should have our eyes open and make the next steps.”
The Croats hadn’t advanced to the semifinals at the World Cup since 1998, when the country made its first appearance.
With the crowd silenced following an extra-time header from Croatia defender Domagoj Vida in the 101st minute, Russia defender Mario Fernandes scored with his own header in the 115th to send the match to yet another penalty shootout.
Fernandes, who was born in Brazil but rejected a chance to play for that country’s national team in 2011, sent his penalty kick wide of the net in the shootout, giving Croatia the advantage.
Both goalkeepers made early saves in the shootout, with an injured Danijel Subasic stopping the opening shot from Fyodor Smolov. Igor Akinfeev later blocked an attempt from Mateo Kovacic.
At 1-1, Fernandes missed his shot — only the second player to miss in any of the four shootouts at this year’s World Cup.
The teams then traded two scores each before Ivan Rakitic calmly converted the winning penalty.
“We should have finished the job before penalties but maybe it’s written in the stars we have to go through the extra drama,” said Luka Modric, whose penalty bounced off Akinfeev’s hand and the post before entering the other side of the net.
Denis Cheryshev gave Russia the lead in regulation time with a long-range shot into the upper corner in the 31st minute. Croatia equalized with Andrej Kramaric’s header near halftime.
“I left everything on the field and unfortunately we were unlucky,” Russia midfielder Roman Zobnin said. “We gave everything we could.”
It was the second straight time both teams played in a penalty shootout. Russia beat Spain 4-3 and Croatia defeated Denmark 3-2 in the round of 16.
Argentina in 1990 had been the last team to win consecutive World Cup shootouts. The defending champions at the time defeated Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals and Italy in the semifinals that year, which also made Italy the last host nation to lose on penalties before Saturday.
The victory overwhelmed Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, who cried after Rakitic’s winning penalty.
“It wasn’t a beautiful game, but it was a battle,” Dalic said. “We were lucky. I was concentrating throughout the match, but after that penalty it came bursting out of me.”