16 June 2012, 11:25
Euro 2012: Sweden 2 - 3 England
DONETSK. June 16. KAZINFORM It was a dizzy night and, by the end, Roy Hodgson could confidently look ahead to England's chances of reaching the quarter-finals while Sweden contemplated an early exit. "The operation was good, but the patient is dead," Erik Hamren, the Sweden manager, reflected. Yet England are alive and well, needing only a draw from their final group fixture against Ukraine to confirm a place in the last eight.
They toyed with our nerves and in the worst moments, after Sweden had turned the game upside-down with two goals early in the second half to lead 2-1, they strayed dangerously close to an almost implausible ordeal. England had looked on the brink of capitulation at that point and, afterwards, the striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Hamren in arguing the result was unjust.
Yet this was a triumph for spirit and togetherness and all the qualities of perseverance for which England teams are renowned. They responded with two goals of their own and there was more to it than simple old-fashioned guts. England did not just win, they did so in a manner that illuminated this tournament and showed that they have the capacity to thrill rather than being simply a functional team.
The decisive goal was a case in point, a piece of improvisational brilliance from Danny Welbeck that deserves its place in the portfolio of great Euro 2012 moments. Theo Walcott had made it 2-2 within three minutes of replacing James Milner and, for Hodgson, that made it a highly successful night in terms of his own decision-making.
His selection of Andy Carroll was justified with the opening goal and, though Olof Mellberg's double reminds us this is still very much a work in progress, England have put themselves in a position of strength going into their final game in Donetsk on Tuesday.
By then, Wayne Rooney will be back from suspension, eager to show that his kick on Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic last October need not have grave ramifications eight months later. Hodgson, reflecting on a night of high drama, made it clear he would bring him straight into the team, with Carroll presumably the man to leave out. If so, the Liverpool striker can consider himself unfortunate given the way he rose to the challenge of exploring Sweden's vulnerability in the air. Not quite a masterstroke on Hodgson's part, but not far off and fully justifying the manager's belief that Sweden might be susceptible to defending crosses, Kazinform quotes the Guardian.
Walcott, too, must consider that he has made a strong claim to play against Ukraine after changing the complexion of the game when he was brought on immediately after Sweden had taken the lead. Walcott brought a penetrative edge to the right of midfield that perhaps no other player in the squad, bar Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, can offer. Milner may be stronger defensively, starting all of Hodgson's four games in charge, but it would not be a surprise now if Walcott takes over against Ukraine. His contribution, Hodgson said, had been "enormous".
The downside came in the form of the near-collapse at the start of the second half when Sweden scored twice in quick succession and it was alarming to see the ease with which they got through from two set pieces. The second goal, in particular, will have troubled a man with Hodgson's regard for defensive structure. Sebastian Larsson's free-kick was delivered into the six-yard area and the marking was poor in the extreme as Mellberg directed his header beyond Hart.
At that point an unhappy sense of deja vu was descending for an England side who have been reminded all week that Sweden had not lost any of their previous seven fixtures when these sides meet in tournaments. Yet the drama of this second half was almost unrelenting and England's players deserve credit for the speed at which they cleared their heads.
Within a minute Andreas Isaksson, the Sweden goalkeeper, had kept out John Terry's header from point-blank range, but Erik Hamren's team were undermined all night by erratic defending and Walcott began the comeback in the 64th minute, firing in a dipping, swerving shot that deceived Isaksson, possibly aided by a slight deflection off Larsson.
Confidence up, Walcott then set up Welbeck's winner with a darting run that took him to the byline before firing a low centre into the six-yard area. The cross was slightly behind Welbeck but the striker anticipated it brilliantly, spinning his body and scoring with a wonderfully-taken flick.
By half-time, it had looked like being a far more mundane occasion. England were on top, playing with more composure than was evident against France, controlling the possession and attacking on the flanks. There were moments of carelessness but they were the better side and Hodgson's research about Sweden's defending had paid dividends in the form of the opening goal.
Andriy Shevchenko had exposed Sweden's vulnerability in the air with two headed goals in this stadium on Monday. In fact, six of the previous seven goals Sweden had conceded had all come from headers. Carroll's game is not entirely built on his ability to elude and out-jump defenders but it is a considerable part of his artillery and Steven Gerrard's delivery from the right was impeccable, just as it had been for Joleon Lescott's goal against France. Carroll had been anticipating his Liverpool team-mate would know precisely where he wanted it. His was a purposeful run between Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist and the header was a mix of power and precision.
Carroll will cherish that moment but happily forget what happened four minutes into the second half when it was his poor attempt to tackle Kim Kallstrom that gave away the free-kick that precipitated Sweden's comeback. Ibrahimovic's first shot rebounded off the defensive wall. The second was a toe-poke which fell fortuitously to Mellberg inside the penalty area. The centre-half took aim with his left foot and, though Hart managed to get a hand to the ball, it flicked off his fingertips and struck Glen Johnson's midriff on its way into the goal.
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