Gareth Southgate is juggling injury concerns ahead of a World Cup quarter-final that the England manager hopes will prove to be just the start for his young side.
The Three Lions broke with tradition on Tuesday to seal progress from the last 16 at the expense of Colombia on penalties after a hard-fought 1-1 draw over 120 minutes was followed by a remarkable shootout triumph.
Eric Dier hammered home his attempt to wrap up a 4-3 victory after goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved Carlos Bacca’s spot-kick as the new generation overcame what has long been an English hoodoo.
A mouth-watering quarter-final against Sweden now awaits in Samara this Saturday – an occasion Southgate is not taking for granted but believes could become an increasingly regular occurrence given England’s talent.
“I think in terms of what they are capable of over the next few years, they are going to get better,” the Three Lions boss said.
“In this tournament we now have to assess all the injuries and see where we are
“For sure, going to extra-time I’m pleased we did what we did in the Belgium game even more because I think it’s an accumulation of fatigue making things more difficult.
“But now we have a chance to reassess and it will be a tough game for sure, because Sweden are often underestimated and I have real respect for Sweden.
“They are always more than the sum of their parts. Our historic record against them is another one we have to put right.
“But I think we have always viewed them at our level and I don’t think that’s right because their tournament record is better than ours.”
England’s chances against Sweden could be made all the tougher by injuries, with Southgate joking the dressing room was “like a scene from M*A*S*H*”.
Jamie Vardy is a doubt with a groin strain that it is understood led the Sheffield-born striker to have an injection after the match, while Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Ashley Young also need checking.
“I think he’s fine,” Southgate said of Alli. “We felt it was probably a good time to try solidify a little bit and with hindsight it was probably a good thing that he didn’t go to extra-time because that would have put him at a bit more risk.
“So, hopefully he’s come through it OK. We have got to check a couple. I think Kyle’s is cramp. We’ve got to check Ashley’s, which is more of an ankle. Vardy feels a bit with his groin.
“You never know with cramp whether that is just cramp or something a little bit more.
“But that will take a good 36 hours. We are probably a little bit behind on our prep but we will judge that.”
Fabian Delph’s return to the group after the birth of his daughter looks a timely boost at a time when England, the top seeds in their half of the draw, can ill afford complacency to seep in.
“I think that was the concern tonight, looking too far ahead,” Southgate said when it came to concerns about going home rather than looking at permutations and possibilities.
“I think after the game we are allowed to enjoy and we must. But then we are very much one game at a time.
“We know the size of the task and we know the difficulty of this task. Every other team in our half of the draw will be thinking exactly the same as us. There are some really good players and some really good teams. So we enjoy but then we go again.”
Preparation has been key for England at this World Cup, having not only have flourished from set-pieces but time spent strategising for shootouts.
“I think it’s an important moment for everybody in our country really,” Southgate said after the penalty win. “You know you are standing there and if we don’t get through from a game we played so well in, you know you will continue the history and mindset for teams to come.
“So it’s a huge moment for these players, but also the next generations to come as well.”
Jordan Henderson admits he will owe fellow Sunderland boy Pickford for the rest of his life after missing in England’s dramatic shootout triumph over Colombia – but is willing to take another World Cup spot-kick if required.
Henderson was the only Englishman who failed to convert from 12 yards on Tuesday, Arsenal’s David Ospina guessing correctly and palming away a cleanly-struck effort.
At that moment the Liverpool captain looked set to join the likes of Chris Waddle, David Batty, David Beckham and Southgate himself as a fall guy for another English disappointment.
Mateus Uribe shot against the bar to put England back on an even keel but it took a brilliant save from Pickford, denying Carlos Bacca, to pave the way for victory.
“I thanked him, I can’t thank him enough, I’m forever in his debt. He says the Mackems stick together!” revealed Henderson.
“You obviously fear the worst when you miss the penalty but Pickers has done brilliantly with the save.
“We’re a really close group, I think you can see that.”