The last time England beat Sweden was back in 1968 when they were world champions and given that Fabio Capello’s team is now clearly the best in the world following their defeat of Spain at the weekend it seems fitting they should break that run now. Alright, they’re not the best team in the world but ending 2011 by following up a tactically excellent, albeit dull, win over the Spanish with a win against Sweden, England, it would seem, have put the Wembley fear about which Capello has so often spoken to the sword.
Free of the defensive tactics which they employed to contain the Spanish, England were able to be more fluent although, as ever, it wasn’t a style of play which they always found easy.
That said the goal came after a patient build-up with Theo Walcott probing down the right before switching play to the left, from where Stewart Downing crossed for Gareth Barry to seemingly head home to give England the lead and notch up the 2000th goal in the country’s history. Sadly for Barry the ball took a not insignificant deflection off Daniel Majstorovic and so it was that his moment of history was snatched away.
There were other chances, not least when Jack Rodwell hit the upright when it would have been easier to score on the stroke of half-time, and a healthy score line would not have flattered England but it wasn’t to be.
With Joe Hart now established as the undisputed England No 1 (the team are unbeaten in the 15 games he has started) the battle is on to be his understudy. So it was that Scott Carson replaced him at half-time for his first Wembley appearance since the horror show against Croatia in November 2007 and he did nothing to blot his copy book.
Another 1-0 win may not have provided much entertainment for either those watching in the ground or on TV but it will have given Capello’s team a boost in confidence. They worked hard, were more adventurous than against the Spanish and kept another clean sheet. Perhaps the Italian has finally found a way of marrying his tactical pragmatism with the England players’ virtues.
Equally significantly these two wins were achieved with minimum participation from the so-called Golden Generation. England’s future could well be brighter for that.
England (4-3-3): Hart (Carson 46), Walker, Cahill, Terry, Baines; Rodwell (Milner 57), Jones, Barry; Walcott (Sturridge 57); Zamora (Bent 69) , Downing.
Sweden (4-2-3-1): Isaksson; Lustig (Wilhelmsson 54), Mellberg (Olsson 46), Majstorovic, M Olsson; Wernbloom, Kallstrom (Svensson 71); Larsson, Elmander, Elm (Bajrami 87); Ibrahimovic (Toivonen 46).
Did you know… England have scored 51 goals in their 18 World Cup and European Championship qualifying games under Fabio Capello.