England looked solid against France and all things looked sweetness and light going into this clash against Sweden. Three points were surely a given, but then we are talking about England here and nothing is ever that easy. Here, we look at the talking points.
England had never previously beaten Sweden in a competitive fixture and things were looking ominous in this Group D fixture until substitute Theo Walcott turned on the magic. Here, we look at the key talking points on a dramatic night at the Olympic Stadium for the Three Lions.
Swedish fans were out in force at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. The yellow army had brought over 18,000 fans for the game and they knew it was do or die as defeat would put them out of the competition. However, it did not deter them from having a party with the 3,000 or so England supporters who braved the trip.
Let’s have a look at some of the talking points that emerged from Friday’s game.
Roy puts one over Swedes again
Roy Hodgson was a popular figure in Sweden before the game due to his stints in domestic football there in the 1970s and 80s, but having eliminated the Swedes that may not be the case now. Indeed, he had never lost to Sweden during his time in charge of Switzerland and Finland and now he has masterminded a fine win over one of England’s bogey teams. The tempo and intensity were a notch higher than against France, but that inability to defend a lead will be a worry.
Carroll looks the part
The inclusion of the traditional English centre-forward was a big call by Hodgson, and would the Liverpool man look the part on the biggest stage of his career so far? Announced himself in the wrong way with a couple of clumsy challenges in the opening minutes, but his goal was a classic of its kind. The Liverpool connection paid off in spades as he used the pace of Gerrard’s ball in to give Isaksson no chance with his header from near the penalty spot. But he blotted his copybook when giving away a free-kick in a dangerous position after the break, and Sweden punished him. With Welbeck also scoring and Rooney available again, Carroll may now revert to making an impact off the bench.
Milner solid again
The Manchester City player’s virtues of hard work going forward and tracking back made him a solid choice on the right side again, and he was more of a threat in the first half than against France. One lovely cross towards Welbeck did not draw the kind of header that Carroll powered in later on, and a yellow card for Milner was quickly followed by his withdrawal in favour of Walcott. His impact was undeniable, but with England only needing a point against Ukraine, Milner’s qualities may see him get the nod again in Donetsk.
Johnson digs in
The Liverpool right-back has his critics, who argue his defensive shortcomings cancel out his undoubted attacking prowess. Generally he was impressive against Sweden, benefiting again from having Milner ahead of him, and he repaid the City player’s willingness to help out in defence by getting forward himself. Denied the lurking Ibrahimovic after the ball had been floated over the defence on 17 minutes, was unlucky not to keep out Sweden’s first goal and a great tackle thwarted Elm as the Swedes threatened to take the game away from England.
What a substitution!
If only all substitutions paid off like the one that saw Walcott replace Milner! The City player was withdrawn as England chased the game, and within just a few minutes Walcott had pulled England level with a superb strike. A weaving run and teasing cross allowed Welbeck the chance to put England back in the lead, then a calf injury threatened to end it all for the Arsenal player after just 20 minutes. But he hung on until the end, and the phrase “game-changing performance” will forever be associated with his display. But with a point needed against the co-hosts, Walcott could start on the bench again.
And now for Wayne Rooney
England’s talisman is now available again and will surely start in Donetsk, so who will drop out? Carroll did everything that was asked of him, but giving away the free-kick that saw Sweden equalise will have been noted. The odds are that Welbeck and Rooney’s Man Utd understanding will see the youngster get the nod, but Carroll has shown he has the mettle to be in the mix for his country from now on.
Beating England at their own game
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it is said, and Mellberg’s second goal could have come from the English coaching manual. Ball over the top from a set-piece, big defender rising like a salmon to nod the ball home – perfect. Olof clearly took note during his seven-year stint at Villa Park, and it was the English defence that was strangely unable to deal with something it should have been so familiar with. Ukraine may have taken note.
Ibrahimovic falls just short
The AC Milan striker proved to be a handful with his physicality proving a test for Lescott and Terry all night. Indeed, the Chelsea captain will probably know how defenders feel having gone up against Didier Drogba after tangling with the Swedish striker. Never short of a word to say, on or off the pitch, Ibrahimovic looked to be on the verge of a confrontation with Joe Hart after Mellberg’s second goal but perhaps responsibility of captaincy drew him away. He was denied by a flying save from Hart, and could not prevent Sweden exiting the competition.