Sabtu, 16 Juni 2012

England rejoice while Swedes head for the exit

UEFA 2012 Group D, Kiev

England 3: 2 Sweden

A helter-skelter of a game which must have pleased everyone but the aesthetes. England got the champagne after coming out on top of a five-goal thriller, but the Swedes, backed by phenomenal support, left Euro 2012 in glory, coming from a goal down to bag two in ten minutes and send England reeling for a few crazy minutes.

In the greater scheme of things, last night's yo-yo in Kiev may go down as a meaningless if entertaining tussle between two of the weaker teams in the tournament. England showed plenty of grit and fighting spirit to come from behind to win, but traditional virtues will not haul them very far. As the Swedes pack their bags, England still have to get a result against the co-hosts to avoid a speedy exit themselves.

The Three Lions are certainly more disciplined and safety-first under Roy Hodgson, but last night rode a rollercoaster which sent their supporters through an encyclopedia of emotions. The team is still learning to play with mental strength and less of the inbred cavalier quality which has so often proved their Achilles' Heel. Steven Gerrard may look glum in his assignment as an anchor instead of as a marauding midfielder but at least got the chance to swing in a diagonal cross for Andy Carroll's gleeful opener, a goal from football past where a long ball finds the big man in the box who then wraps it up.

In the end, England profited from a little more quality than Sweden in the final third. Carroll's power-header was text-book, Theo Walcott was the perfect impact sub with his troubling pace and silky feet, while Danny Welbeck's exquisite finish for the winner means he remains on cloud nine.

In reply, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic maintained a real threat for Sweden, although Kim Kallstrom troubled Joe Hart with his snapshots from distance and the young playmaker Rasmus Elm stood out as the most lively brain among a field of workhorses. England's most creative player Ashley Young had a nightmare for a change, hardly putting a foot right all evening.

It was an error-strewn game with neither defence able to defend set-pieces adequately and neither midfield able keep hold of the ball for long. But it was certainly value for spectator money.

While England's beleaguered supporters enjoyed a well-earned and rare night of joyous celebration, deep down all are aware that tougher tests await. No-one in their right mind thinks Hodgson's team are equal to Germany or Spain, and indeed the Three Lions' Euro-quest could end as soon as next Tuesday against the Ukraine. There has been little euphoria at home so far, and no St George's crosses fluttering from car windows as in previous tournaments.

Ball retention, England's perennial shortcoming, must improve, as must the sloppy marking which led to Olof Mellberg's brace and they must find a way of compensating for John Terry's now alarming lack of pace. The squad, already weakened by multiple withdrawals, remains painfully short on depth.

That said, Wayne Rooney will return to the fold and their win in Kiev plus Ukraine's exhausted surrender to France will leave the team confident of reaching the knock-out stages when the real challenges will arrive.

Sweden are left to pick up the pieces after a swift elimination. Erik Hamren's more open approach following six years of Lars Lagerback solidity has got off to a disappointing start.

Having failed to make it to the 2010 World Cup finals, hopes were high for Euro 2012, but with six of last night's side in their 30s, there will now be calls for new blood as they look towards Brazil 2014.

(c) Soccerphile & Sean O'Conor

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