Saturday, 16 June 2012

Roy's Boys Do It The Hard Way

by George Kimber-Sweatman
Theo Walcott
(soccerjones.com)
Sweden 2-England 3
England went into this Euro 2012 match against Sweden needing a win to ensure that they did not go into a tricky-looking final game with the Ukraine on Tuesday needing a win. And they did not disappoint, achieving it in a thrilling manner which had England fans on the edge of their seats.
Having achieved a very respectable draw with the Group D favourites France in the opening game, this was an opportunity to raise English spirits further and perhaps change the public perception at home that England were underdogs, who had a little chance of progressing to the latter stages of the tournament.
Things got off to an almost perfect start in Kiev as England took control of possession during the opening exchanges and the first shot on target came on 7 minutes as Scott Parker fizzed in a well-struck effort, which Andreas Isaksson did fantastically to save high to his right. But, just over 15 minutes later, England did take the lead as Andy Carroll powered home a towering header from an exquisite right-wing Steven Gerrard cross. England successfully survived until the half-time interval with few real scares and England fans were left feeling quite relaxed that the evening would develop into a comfortable one, spent watching a simple England victory.
However, in stark contrast with the first half, proceedings began disastrously in the second period as Sweden forced their way back into the game and stunned English supporters. Sweden were forced to attack in an attempt to stave off certain elimination from the competition by the end of the evening, and their new-found sense of adventure paid immediate dividends, as ex-Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg scored a quickfire double with a shot on the rebound from captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s free kick on 49 minutes, before he put away a free header from a Sebastian Larsson set piece on 59 minutes.
Yet this remarkable game went on to take another dramatic turn as England mounted an instant comeback of their own, perhaps sparked by the speedy introduction of Theo Walcott. Having seen John Terry’s close-range header miraculously saved by Isaksson, England equalised from the resulting corner. The delivery was cleared to the edge of the area by the Swedish defence, where Walcott was on hand to make an immediate impact, as he converted spectacularly past the totally unsighted Isaksson high into the centre of the net.
Furthermore, England went on to win the match in dramatic fashion on 78 minutes.

Substitute Walcott was again heavily involved as England broke down the right, taking on two Swedish defenders before crossing low for Danny Welbeck to convert on the spin with a delicate flick of his right boot into the bottom left corner. Needless to say, the England fans were euphoric, easily out-singing their Swedish counterparts, despite being heavily outnumbered.
In the face of relentless Swedish attack, England did manage to hold their lead this time and gained a hugely important three points in the quest for the first place in Group D which would mean avoiding reigning World and European champions Spain in the quarter finals. The match itself was a thrilling one as the momentum swung back and forth. Referee Damir Skomina also played his part in the entertainment, letting the game flow and limiting his interruptions to those times when they were absolutely necessary – reinforcing his reputation as one of the best referees in world football.
England started well, again looking well-organised and disciplined under new manager Roy Hodgson. But all of those positives were forgotten during a terrible period just after half time. The Swedish comeback, which had seemed so unlikely at the break, came to pass in no small part due to some absolutely diabolical English defending, as Ashley Cole inexplicably let the ball bounce in the build-up to the equaliser, before Mellberg was bizarrely left totally unmarked 6 yards from goal for his second. You would not expect to see such errors while watching a schoolboy contest, let alone a match in the most prestigious tournament in Europe. However, although these mistakes should certainly be eradicated and never repeated, they matter little thanks to the spirited reaction of the players when facing adversity. The influence of substitute Theo Walcott certainly had a huge bearing on the result, as he scored the equalising goal and provided the assist for the winner.
 Yet the decision to introduce Walcott was not the only masterstroke from Roy Hodgson, as his decision to start with Andy Carroll in place of young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was vindicated too, as Carroll notched the opening goal. Hodgson’s tactics have been the subject of some criticism in England since the draw with France, as they were considered to be boring and unambitious. However, these tactics were successful against France and are obviously not the only option available to the England manager, as his team were much more adventurous in this tie – perhaps, it could be argued, at the expense of their solid defence. Boring is not a word that could be used to describe this clash with Sweden, as fans were treated to an eventful match and a rollercoaster of emotions. Here’s hoping that England’s next outing will be just the same – highly entertaining and with the desired result.

See Ben Willcocks' report on the opening day of the Euro 2012 competition: http://portsmouthpoint.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/opening-day-of-euro-2012-group.html

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