Friday, 15 June 2012

Removing A Milstone

European Championships, 1st Round, Group D: Kiev; Sweden 2, England 3

Carroll Goal 22"
The talk in the lead up to this game was over the influence of Bobby Houghton and Roy Hodgson on Swedish Football.  Yet at the end of an exciting if not error strewn match, Hodgson’s England triumphed over the side that have been under his influence since the 1970’s.  A victory that saw England rack up their first victory in a European Championship or World Cup match over Sweden and simultaneously eliminated them from this tournament.

The match itself was punctuated by the continued giving the ball away by both sides.  It was a world away from the chilling performance put in by Spain 24 hours earlier when they put Ireland to the sword so mercilessly.  Both sides played variations of 4-4-2 (Sweden had Ibrahimavic floating behind Elmander, Wellbeck played a similar free role for England but played alongside Carroll a lot more).  Crucially, England would not be playing in the heat that sapped them during their opening match against France.

First blood was drawn by England about half way through the first half.  Gerard’s cross from the right was powerfully headed in by Andy Carroll (above), the delivery by Gerard was a facsimile of his delivery to Lescott on Monday.  Yet the goal did not settle England down.  Because both sides were intent on digging in for an attritional midfield battle, Sweden were never out of the game as half time came and went.

Indeed Sweden charged into a 2-1 lead early on in the second half.  Firstly, a free kick by Ibrahimavic was blocked by the England wall, the return shot rebounded to Mellberg who saw his shot hit Hart and come off Glen Johnson while going in.  Just before the hour, another free kick, this time on the England left saw a cross by Larsson headed in by Mellberg unopposed.  England were rocking, and could have conceded a third when Sweden broke up field from an England corner. England then had a couple of moments where they dominated, which culminated in their equaliser.

Wellbeck Goal 78"
A Glen Johnson cross was headed in by Terry, only to see his header saved by Isaksson.  From the corner Sweden cleared only to see the substitute Walcott pick up the ball and smash a swerving and dipping shot past Isaksson, England’s first goal scored from outside the box in a Final’s match since Beckham’s free kick against Ecuador in Stuttgart six years ago.  The match opened up, with Kallstrom and Elm missing chances for Sweden while Wellbeck had a chance and Young put a free kick over the bar.  Wellbeck’s moment came though with 12 minutes to go. Wallcott ran at the Swedish left and put in a cutback to Wellbeck. With the ball being slightly behind him, Wellbeck kind of back heeled the ball past Isaksson and went in off the post.  The question now was could England hold out.

Against the grain of this match, the team more likely to score proved to be England.  Parker put a shot over the bar, while in the dying moments Gerard had a shot saved by Isaksson.

So, are England back?  Well, no.  Hodgson’s current England team is still very much a work in progress.  They struggled to beat a Sweden side some way short of the vintage Sweden sides of the past.  Yet they will be happy to break their duck against Sweden.  It gives them a chance to progress in this tournament.  All they need to do now is get past the hosts

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