Group D: Sweden 2 - 3 EnglandFri, Jun 15 2012
Theo Walcott came off the bench to score an equaliser and set up Danny Welbeck’s winner as England came from behind to win 3-2 and eliminate Sweden in Group D on Friday night.
The early moments were characterised by some nervy, snatched passes from both sides. Sweden knew that defeat would send them home, while England showed signs of the tension that always seems to accompany them to major tournaments.
But on seven minutes England created the first opportunity, Danny Welbeck setting up Scott Parker for a 25 yard shot that Swedish ‘keeper Isaksson did very well to save. Ashley Cole then showed admirable composure at the back, heading Ibrahimovic’s searching cross towards Larsson back to his own keeper. But Larsson soon responded for the Scandinavians, sending a well hit snap shot into Hart’s midriff.
As both sides struggled towards a settled rhythm Milner almost provided an opening with a cross from the right that Welbeck failed to meet cleanly, glancing his header well beyond Isaksson’s back post. At the other end Larsson almost released Ibrahimovic with a finely judged pass that Glen Johnson covered impressively.
But overall, misjudged passes were the most prominent aspect of a game that was becoming defined more by Saxon sweat than inspiration. But as the opening half reached its halfway point Andy Carroll intervened.
Just moments after Cole had narrowly missed the corner flag with an effort from thirty yards, Steven Gerrard pumped a diagonal ball into the area and Carroll rose between two Swedish defenders to send a thumping header beyond Isaksson.
It was a wonderful goal, a very English goal, and one that vindicated the tactical judgement of the new England boss Roy Hodgson, who had identified Sweden’s defensive weakness in the air following Andriy Shevchenko’s performance against them earlier in the week.
Ibrahimovic, so often the source of Sweden’s creativity, looked unimpressed by events and cut an apathetic figure up until the half hour mark. In the 32nd minute he burst forwards from midfield, suddenly looking like the figure of influence he can be, and swept past less mobile England bodies before launching a shot that Hart would have been grateful to see tamed by the slightest of deflections.
Five minutes later Kim Kallstrom almost levelled with a ferocious drive that just cleared the English crossbar and with Ibrahimovic growing ever more impressive the English back four found themselves working harder as half time approached.
Sweden started the second period on the front foot, picking up on England’s seemingly unending willingness to give away cheap possession. Three minutes in, Kalstrom drew a rash foul from Carroll on the edge of the English box and, while Ibrahimovic’s free kick came back off the wall, his follow up effort found Mellberg on the right hand side of the box. Mellberg’s shot squirmed through Hart’s outstretched hand and Johnson was unable to keep the ball out despite a brave attempt at a goal-line clearance.
Rasmus Elm might have put Sweden ahead shortly afterwards when Kalstrom slid a perfect ball inside Johnson, but Elm hesitated and the chance was swallowed up by the recovering England right back. But in the 59th minute the Sweden were in front.
Milner conceded another free, this time wide on England’s right flank, and Larsson’s wickedly curling delivery was headed home at the back post by Mellberg for his second of the match.
Hodgson responded by sending on Theo Walcott for Milner and minutes later it was Walcott’s spinning cross that found John Terry behind the Swedish back-line. Isaksson scooped Terry’s effort up and over his bar, but when the corner came in it was only half cleared to Walcott who blasted a dipping shot over a phalanx of defenders to find the roof of the net.
It was game in the classical English style with regular concession of the ball fuelling barnstorming raids on both goals. Poised at 2-2 with twenty minutes remaining it begged a winner.
Ashley Young whipped a free kick just over Isaksson’s bar on 72 minutes and, at the other end, Kalstrom blew the ball high over the English goal after an incisive break down the left by Martin Olsson.
Olsson broke again on 76 minutes, this time through the middle, and Elmander picked out Ibrahimovic who clattered a long range strike past Hart’s right hand post. But the next breakthrough would fall to England.
With twelve minutes left on the clock Johnson found Walcott and Hodgson’s inspired substitution paid further dividends as the young Arsenal winger squared to Welbeck. Despite the ball arriving slightly behind him, Welbeck somehow managed to hook the ball into the net with his heel.
Even at this point neither side was willing to accept the status quo and the result remained in the balance throughout a hectic final ten minutes. In added time Walcott surged forwards and clipped the ball to Gerrard whose flying volley was batted away by Isaksson.
But the final whistle brought England a rare win over their northern neighbours, and with it, early elimination for a Swedish side who have done more entertaining than two defeats might suggest.
Sweden: Isaksson; Granqvist (Lustig 66), Mellberg, J Olsson, M Olsson; Larsson, Svensson, Kalstrom, Elm (Wilhelmsson 81); Ibrahimovic; Elmander (Rosenberg 79).
Subs not used: Hansson (gk), Wiland (gk), Antonsson, Safari, Bajrami, Holmen, Wernbloom, Toivonen, Hysen.
Bookings: Mellberg (63), Olsson (72), Svensson (90+1).
England: Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner (Walcott 60), Gerrard, Parker, Young; Welbeck (Oxlade-Chamberlain 90), Carroll.
Subs not used: Green (gk), Butland (gk), Baines, Jagielka, Jones, Kelly, Downing, Henderson, Defoe.
Booked: Milner (58).
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia).
Extratime Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden).
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org