Roy Hodgson made it four games unbeaten as England boss as he masterminded an enthralling 3-2 victory over Sweden in a result that see’s the Swede’s bow out of the tournament after just two games and England go joint top of Group D with France on 4 points. Despite the game being action packed and exciting to the neutral, it once again showed the problems England still have, whilst the team spirit and togetherness in the squad was amplified once more by a late turnaround.
England made a single change from the side that drew 1-1 with France on Monday night with Andy Carroll coming in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a move which saw England switch to a more natural 4-4-2 formation. This meant that Ashley Young & James Milner would occupy the right & left wings providing tantalising balls in for Andy Carroll who could knock them down for the pacey Welbeck – that was the theory anyways.
Sweden manager Erik Hamren said that only five or six players reached the levels he wanted in their disappointing 2-1 defeat against Ukraine in the opener and as a result he rung the changes, replacing three of that starting line up. Somewhat unsurprisingly three players who have all played in England at some point in their careers were brought in, with Jonas Olsson, Anders Svensson & former Bolton forward Johan Elmander all being given starting berths. They replaced Celtic’s Mikael Lustig, Ola Toivonen & Markus Rosenburg as they reverted to a 4-4-1-1 formation which would see Ibrahimovic play in a slightly deeper role behind Elmander up front.
The game started rather slowly with Andy Carroll giving away a couple of fouls for seemingly jumping to head the ball as we were subjected to a midfield battle in the opening five minutes. The game really livened up though with six minutes played when some neat football around the Sweden box by Welbeck & Parker saw the latter of the two unleash a fierce right footed drive with the outside of the boot that was saved emphatically by Isaksson to keep the scores level – an important stop from the PSV ‘keeper as it looked to be heading into the top corner.
England continued to maintain the majority of the possession in the opening quarter of the match and should have opened the scoring when Danny Welbeck glanced a header wide of the post following a sublime ball in by James Milner. Sweden were just about finding their range in this period, with both Seb Larsson & Zlatan Ibrahimovic testing Joe Hart, however neither attempt caused the stopper any real difficulty.
Andy Carroll has been widely criticised for being included in the squad here at the Euro’s, but with 22 minutes gone he silenced them with a sublime headed finish just inside the box from Steven Gerrard’s world class ball in. An excellent finish from the Liverpool man to give England the lead – however Roy Hodgson should be commended for starting with him, because not many managers would have done so at this stage in the tournament.
The rest of the first half saw very few opportunities, the best of which fell to Ashley Young when slipped through by Ashley Cole, however the United winger squandered his chance by taking a poor first touch and shifting it onto his right foot rather than advancing towards goal with his left – needless to say his shot was unsuccessful. Minutes later and England were nearly made to pay for Young’s wastefulness; luckily though Kallstrom’s fizzing strike just went over the bar, much to Joe Hart’s relief. Just before the half time whistle Danny Welbeck made a neat turn before advancing towards the Sweden goal where he was tackled well by Mellberg to break up the danger – good invention from the United man nonetheless.
That was the end of a very “bitty” first half as the Match Of The Day pundits described it, whilst England were on top they were playing nowhere near what we all knew they are capable of. Despite good build up play there was no real end product with James Milner being especially guilty of over hitting crosses and just having a poor game in general – a massive contrast from his Man of the Match performance against the French 4 days previous.
Over the half time period one of the pundits mentioned that Roy Hodgson had never lost against the Swedish National side; that threatened to go horribly wrong when Olof Mellberg equalised with the aid of Glen Johnson’s stomach with just three minutes gone in the second half. A free kick by Ibrahimovic fell to the unmarked Mellberg whose shot beat Joe Hart and despite the best efforts of Johnson on the line, found its way into the back of the net for a Sweden equaliser – much to the nation’s disbelief.
The match then became very stretched in a period where the momentum was there for either side to seize and take a grasp of the game if they wanted too. England tried to establish a foothold again but were unable to keep possession for a prolonged period of time with Steven Gerrard’s speculative half volley being closed down in double quick time by the Swedish defence who obviously knew the dangers that his left foot possessed.
England were then undone by their own style of play as Sweden took a shock lead in the contest courtesy of Mellberg once more who was on hand to head home unmarked into the corner of the net following Larsson’s free kick. Roy Hodgson changed the whole philosophy of the Swedish game when he managed over there e nearly 30 years ago and now it was threatening to kick him up the backside as the Swede’s took a 2-1 lead – the first real test Hodgson was to face as England manager.
Unlike so many managers in the modern game Hodgson then decided to make an immediate change after falling behind, injecting some pace into proceedings with the introduction of Theo Walcott for the under par James Milner – almost instantaneously it paid off. A cross in from Johnson found Terry in the box whose goal-bound header was tipped superbly over the bar by Isaksson, yet another magnificent save from the highly rated stopper. From the corner though the ball was cleared out to Walcott who took two touches before firing a shot through a crowd of bodies that flew into the centre of the net – alluding Isaksson along the way to draw the score’s level.
The game was now finely poised and as a result it became increasingly end to end with Carroll firing a shot just over the bar as the match adopted a more “Premier League” pace and feel to it. Sweden then began to press a little bit more with Kallstrom spurning a fantastic chance after immense play down the wing by Martin Olsson to get the ball into the box. Minutes later and “Zlatan” who had been anonymous for the previous 75 minutes suddenly sprung into action, forcing Joe Hart into a fine diving save with a rasping 20 yard strike that nearly sent Sweden ahead for the second time in the contest.
Just as it looked as though Sweden may nick a goal it was straight up the other end as superb sub Walcott linked up with Welbeck to send England 3-2 ahead with 13 minutes to go in the contest. Walcott’s mazy run into the box saw him cut the ball back for Welbeck who got ahead of himself, however he re-adjusted himself and back heeled the ball into the net with amazing technique much to the nation’s delight – a stark contrast to when these two players were on opposite sides in a particular 8-2 match earlier in the season. The question now, was could England hold out for the victory?
Am I pleased to report that despite the best efforts of the Sweden forward line, they couldn’t find a response to Welbeck’s winner – in fact it was England who looked more like to add to their lead. In the closing stages Gerrard forced another fine save from Isaksson before Olsson missed a tough headed chance for the Swedes to round off the most pulsating game of the tournament so far.
Roy Hodgson really does deserve to take a lot of plaudits for this result, he wasn’t scared to dabble with his team selection before the match and he was prepared to make a quick change to try and turn the game in his favour – something previous England managers have failed to do. This is also the first England side to ever beat Sweden in a competitive match, another string to add to Roy Hodgson’s already impressive bow. I am full of praise for Hodgson, although we may need to improve upon the performance as a while, he’s demonstrating the characteristics that many people have longed for in an England manager for quite a while.
This victory should see England through to the Quarter Finals – a point against Ukraine will certainly be enough, the only question now is will they finish in first or second place?