It’s always good to have a Plan B. We all knew what Plan A was: exploit an inability to defend the high ball, stick the big man up front and swing in the crosses. Unfortunately, in the battle between Roy Hodgson’s England and the nation he has done so much to influence it was the Swedes who implemented that plan better.
Andy Carroll’s header opened the scoring in the first half, but two from Olaf Mellberg early in the second half had England on the ropes. So it was that Hodgson resorted to the back up plan bringing on Theo Walcott, an attacking substitution which may have surprised his many critics in the Press. Walcott scored with his second touch and used his pace to set up Danny Welbeck for the winner 12 minutes from time.
Given that coming into the game, six of the last seven goals Sweden had conceded had been headers it was a none-too subtle to give Carroll his first competitive start and play balls into the box for him to attack. However, subtle or not, it worked to perfection when the Liverpool player continued his recent rehabilitation with a goal in the 23rd minute. Milner pressured Martin Olsson into giving the ball away to Steven Gerrard and the England skipper was able to deliver a pinpoint cross into the Swedish area which Carroll headed past Andreas Isaksson.
England saw out the half but their habit of relinquishing possession too easily was a portent of what was to come and it was that Achilles Heel that undid them less than five minutes into the second half. Ashley Cole misjudged the bounce of the ball on the edge of the area allowing the Swedes to keep possession and a subsequent foul by Carroll gave the Swedes a free kick 35 yards from goal. Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s effort could only find the wall but the Sweden captain poked the ball through to Mellberg and his shot deflected in off Joe Hart and Glen Johnson.
Having not scored in three years for his country, the former Aston Villa player grabbed his second of the game ten minutes later. This time it was Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson who delivered the free kick and it found Melberg unmarked at the far post.
Hodgson reacted immediately, replacing James Milner with Theo Walcott and the Arsenal man had an almost instant impact equalising with his second touch. An England corner won after a close-range John Terry header was cleared but only as far as Walcott 25 yards out. He blasted the ball back at goal and it took a slight deflection off Larsson so wrong-footing Isaksson.
Keepers win games too and it shouldn’t be overlooked that in the middle of Walcott’s cameo Ibrahimovic drew a fantastic save from Joe Hart. Had that gone in the result would have been very different. However, Walcott’s pace caused all sorts of problems for Sweden down the right and he created the winner with a driving run into the box. His cross for Welbeck was met with a spectacular swivelling back heel 12 minutes for time.
It was a nervy final period but England held on for the vital three points and as the Swedes looked for an equaliser Gerrard nearly grabbed a fourth. As it was they notched up their first ever competitive win against Sweden ending their interest in the tournament in the process.
Wayne Rooney can play in the next match and a draw in that game will see England through to the last eight however this was a mediocre performance rescued by two moments of magic. That said if Hodgson can cure England’s inability to keep the ball they might just do something.
Sweden (4-4-1-1): Isaaksson; Grandqvist (Lustig 66), Mellberg, Jonas Olsson, Martin Olsson; Larsson, Svensson, Kallstrom, Elm (Wilhelmsson 81); Ibrahimovic; Elmander (Rosenberg 80).
Did you know…Roy Hodgson is now unbeaten in six games as a national coach against Sweden with England, Switzerland and Finland.