In a roller-coaster encounter in Kiev, England managed to battle back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 and in doing so, knocking Erik Hamren’s side out with their first ever competitive defeat of Sweden. England now just need a point from Tuesday’s game with co-hosts Ukraine to progress from Group D after a battling comeback led by the irrepressible Theo Walcott.
Andy Carroll emphatically headed England in-front after a superb cross by Steven Gerrard mid-way through the first-half, only for Roy Hodgson’s men to capitulate shortly after half-time as they conceded two set-piece goals within 15 minutes of the second half, both scored by centre-back Olof Mellberg. With the game suddenly slipping away, Hodgson reacted and immediately sent on Walcott who swerved home a 20 yard equaliser before teeing up Danny Welbeck for the winner, an improvised finish in the 6 yard box to send the modest number of England fans behind the goal into delirium, and relief to spread everywhere back home.
Sweden; (4-4-1-1) Isaksson, Granqvist (Lustig 66), J Olsson, Mellberg, M Olsson, Elm (Wilhelmsson 81), Larsson, Svensson, Kallstrom, Ibrahimovic, Elmander (Rosenberg 79)
Scorers; Mellberg 49’, 59’
England; (4-4-2) Hart, Johnson, Lescott, Terry, A Cole, Parker, Gerrard, Milner (Walcott 60), Young, Carroll, Welbeck (Oxlade-Chamberlain 89)
Scorers; Carroll 23’, Walcott 64’, Welbeck 78’
How it played out
Erik Hamren made three changes from the side that lost to Ukraine, Jonas Olsson came in for Mikael Lustig at right back, Anders Svensson replaced Ola Toivanen in midfield whilst Johann Elmander took the place of Markus Rosenberg as the main striker ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
England meanwhile, made just one change to the side that battle to a draw with France, Andy Carroll coming in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take his place alongside Danny Welbeck up front in what was a slight change of system. Hodgson was now playing with two out-and-out strikers rather than one with Ashley Young in behind, the Manchester United man was positioned out to the left.
With both teams chasing the points after dropping them in the first game, England would need to be more attacking than the highly organised display that was in effect against France, so Carroll came on as an attacking outlet for England to be more direct in getting the ball forward. Danny Welbeck was often charged with dropping off Carroll to link the play, but often found himself directly alongside the Liverpool target man, and Welbeck had the best chance of the early stages, heading a James Milner cross wide of the goal.
Andriy Shevchenko took advantage of Swedish poor marking from crosses and naivety at full-back to head both Ukrainian goals last Monday, and this was England’s clear game plan here, however Milner and Ashley Young were mostly poor with final-ball delivery and so England’s clear-cut chances struggled to arise early on.
It was a cross from the deep-right side that justified the direct approach however, as Steven Gerrard hit a looping ball, his second assist of the tournament, which Carroll dispatched with a thumping header.
Carroll’s inclusion often meant a desire for England to hit a needless long-ball which surrendered possession too easily. Welbeck’s role of being the one to often drop off the front-line seemed to be confused and with Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker being reserved in position again, Anders Svensson found it too easy to crowd Welbeck out when he picked up the ball in deep positions, so England were caught short often quite high up the pitch.
Apart from sporadic bouts of fluidity in attack, England often appeared broken in the final third, Milner and Young were ineffectual when playing in-front of the full-back, they failed to create anything of note in the first half after Carroll’s goal. With a high-defensive line aimed at reducing the effect of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kim Kallstrom could thread balls in behind when fed through the midfield (Glenn Johnson had to make a last ditch tackle when caught square), whilst a Sebastian Larsson raking ball saw Ibrahimovic win a foot-race with John Terry. When England did move deeper as a defensive unit, Sweden hit a few long range efforts which Joe Hart comfortably dealt with.
Immediately after half-time, England bizarrely decided to sit extremely deep after a short-spell of misused possession invite Sweden to pile on the pressure. To illustrate how deep, it was the striker Andy Carroll who conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box that Ibrahimovic hit the wall with, only to volley it back through a jungle of legs into the path of Mellberg who equalised scrappily.
In the next ten minutes, England were extremely poor. Hamren wisely took advantage of England’s conservative nature under Hodgson by pushing high up, this lessened the room for Parker and Gerrard to move the ball forwards, while Young and Milner failed to get into space on the flanks. It was sluggish, disjointed football for ten minutes and Milner, caught high up the pitch in possession, picked up a booking as frustration took hold. From the following free-kick, Mellberg rose unmarked to head home a second, which shell-shocked England.
Hodgson sprang into life and on came Walcott. From the kick-off, Ashley Young surged forward on the left-flank in behind Olsson and the intent to use the pace of the wingers was obvious again. There was suddenly more urgency and a more advanced foothold saw Glenn Johnson cross for John Terry who was superbly denied by Isaksson. Walcott drove a deflected equaliser from the ensuing corner and the momentum was back with England.
Walcott was a wider attacking outlet than Milner and his pace forced Martin Olsson back on the right flank, his raw pace allowed England to break with intent. A draw would not have been good enough for Sweden, so as Hamren’s side piled forward, there were suddenly gaps in behind the midfield which Ashley Young and Walcott ran into freely, with Welbeck’s mobility occupying the defenders. It was two such breaks that saw Walcott stretch the full-back to cross for Welbeck to back-heel the winner, and Gerrard to be denied a late fourth goal by Isaksson’s body.
The third goal proved vital however, as England could sit deep again and see the game out for the last ten minutes. Hodgson will find negatives in this display; a poor retaining of possession, slack marking at set-pieces, a lack of invention from the starting wide-players, but the win was ensured to immense relief.
Sweden will now go home after a tournament where they have defended crosses abysmally and also struggled to keep possession in midfield. With both sides showing obvious technical deficiencies, we had a broken, poor football game littered by errors and fouls, but it was certainly high on entertainment.
Sweden’s star man
Zlatan Ibrahimovic- Olof Mellberg scored two goals from set-pieces which could have won Sweden the game, but it was his poor marking that allowed Andy Carroll to head the opener and he was part of a shaky Sweden back-line. Therefore, it would be harsh to overlook Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was a strong physical force in the second striker role. Not only was he adept at linking the play with his back-to-goal, he was a constant menace with his movement, usually to each side of Scott Parker, whilst he also provided a long-range shooting threat, forcing Joe Hart into two saves with driving shots from the edge of the box. A mercurial talent, but let down by the Swedish poor quality on the ball and disjointed movement into the areas around him.
England’s star man
Theo Walcott- It was a peerless impact from Walcott who was summoned from the bench to make his most telling contribution to an England game since his hat-trick of Zagreb in 2008. His pace suddenly prevented Martin Olsson from scampering forward from left-back, and he answered the question about final product by crossing for Welbeck’s winner. He stayed wider than Milner and was more ambitious with his movement, which makes a starting berth for Tuesday’s game with Ukraine a very substantial claim.
What to expect in the upcoming games.
For Sweden, the tournament is over so their match with France in Kiev will be mostly an irrelevance. Erik Hamren will be hoping for a better performance in terms of ball retention and defending from crosses as they aim to salvage some pride against France, who will be looking to top group D with a win.
England have a trickier negotiation as they face Ukraine in Donetsk with the co-hosts needing a win to progress in front of their own fans. All England need is a point to progress, but there was enough confusion at the back against Sweden to suggest this will be a dangerous game. Hodgson will take solace in the fact that both goals were shipped from set-pieces, so work can be done on shaping a more organised unit. Andriy Shevchenko again looked dangerous on the shoulder of the defender against France, so Hodgson may think about reverting deeper as another high-line could be caught out here.
Hodgson’s main dilemma comes in attack after he confirmed that the previously suspended Wayne Rooney would return to the team. Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck both made good claims for a starting place in Kiev with a goal apiece, so Hodgson may find it tough to drop one of them. Welbeck’s movement and intelligence at running the channels may see a replication of the Manchester United line, with him playing ahead of a deeper Rooney at the expense of Carroll, who increases the temptation for the aimless long ball.
Theo Walcott will be hard to ignore in place of James Milner on the right after this game-saving role, whilst Ashley Young’s club relationship with Rooney and Welbeck could see him survive two poor performances to line up on the left. Rooney’s penchant for dropping deeper between the lines, will bridge the gap between midfield and attack and giving more fluidity in linking the play on the edge of the box. Rooney will be a more obvious short ball for the Gerrard/ Parker axis to feed, given his intelligence for finding space.
More work will have to be done on the defensive unit after it was reduced to a shambles for a crazy, short period against Sweden, whilst the attack is likely to be more mobile and fluid with the introduction of Rooney. Against a relatively poor Ukraine outfit, this will be Hodgson’s biggest test in that this may be England’s team and system for the rest of the tournament. After changing them both from games 1 to 2, the manager will have to settle on a familiar system soon and it could boil down to this deciding game.