Analysis: Super sub Walcott inspires England win
- By Nidhun Thankachan
Story Dated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 8:57 hrs IST
The Sweden and England clash was perhaps the most engaging match of Euro 2012 as the lead oscillated back and forth between the two powerhouses. The Three Lions finally emerged victorious giving Roy Hodgson his first competitive win as England manager.
England made just the one change from the game against France, with an extra height brought in in the form of Andy Carroll. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the player who made way for him. England went in with a 4-4-2 defending as two banks of 4, with the wingers Milner and Young tracking back to cut down initial Swedish pressure.
Sweden made three changes from the team that lost 2-0 to Ukraine with Jonas Olsson replacing Mikael Lustig in the centre of defence, the veteran Anders Svensson coming in to replace Ola Toivonen in midfield and Jonas Elmander coming in for Markus Rosenberg in attack. Sweden also adopted a 4-4-2, with Ibrahimovic dropping back to initiate play.
How it was panned out
The initial English strategy was to use Andy Carroll’s aerial ability to trouble the Swedish defence and the ball was constantly fed to Young and Milner down the flanks for them to deliver crosses for the 6 foot 4 inch striker. The move reaped dividends with Carroll heading in a Gerrard cross with aplomb to take England into the lead in the 23rd minute.
Ibrahimovic was highly critical of his teammates after the defeat against Ukraine and seemed to take it upon himself to score for Sweden, especially afterEngland’s first goal, trying to bulldoze his way to goal whenever he got the ball. He dropped deep to start moves but ended up trying to do it all by himself, when he could have put in his teammates, especially Rasmus Elm, who was taking up good positions. The first half ended with England defending reasonably well albeit with minimum threat from a pretty languid Swedish front line.
The second half was a different matter with a clearly rejuvenated Sweden equalising in the scrappiest of fashions in the 50th minute. England’s reaction after an Ibrahimovic free kick was blocked by the wall was lackadaisical, with Ibra provided the room to ‘karate kick’ a pass into the English penalty box, which was redirected towards goal by an onrushing Olof Mellberg. Despite the best efforts of Joe Harte, who got a hand to the ball and Glen Johnson, who tried to clear the ball of the line, the ball creeped in. The goal was credited as an own goal.
Sweden’s second goal also came from another set piece, with Sebastian Larsson’s inch-perfect free kick being effectively met by Mellberg with a firm header. The 34-year-old is playing in his 4th European Championships and rolled back the years to outjump the English defence to head home. England looked toothless in attack and Roy Hodgson pulled off a masterstroke in bringing in the mercurial Theo Walcott in place of James Miler in the 61st minute. The infusion of Walcott’s electric pace completely changed the complexion of the game and England equalised almost immediately.
An English corner made its way to Walcott at the edge of the box and his somewhat tame shot went straight in past a clearly confused Andreas Isakkson in goal, who was probably unsighted by the number of bodies in front of him.
The game completely opened up thereafter, with both teams going for the win. Sweden would be eliminated if they lost this and England had to ensure victory to ease nerves ahead of a difficult tie with Ukraine. One such Swedish attack broke down and the English countered at breakneck speed, with Walcott waltzing past 2 defenders in his way into the Swedish penalty box. His low cross was met by an outrageous backheel on-the-spin from Danny Welbeck to send the English supporters into raptures. The English tightened up in defence and held out against a late barrage from Sweden to come away with a crucial victory.
With two losses in two games, Sweden became the second team to be eliminated from Euro 2012 after Ireland. A new generation of players have to come in for Sweden to do better at international championships, with veterans like Anders Svensson, Olof Mellberg and co clearly past their prime. Rasmus Elm is a wonderful young player and Erik Hamren may do well in trying to build a team around him. In Markus Berg and John Guidetti, Sweden have two promising young strikers and they have to be given the proper nurturing to mould them into top draw internationals.
England can relax a bit now and with Rooney set to come in for the 3rd game, Hodgson has a pleasant selections dilemma on hand with his other strikers, Welbeck and Carroll also finding form. Hodgson may be hard pressed to start Walcott in the game against Ukraine, but he may still go with Milner because of his defensive abilities. Any two of Ukraine, France and England can still make it to the quarters and we are in for a tightly contested 3rd round of games in Group D on the 20th.