15 Jun 2012

Can England capitalise on Swedish disarray?

England tries to reverse the tide of history tonight by beating Sweden.

Monday’s draw against France may not have rivalled the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for a national outpouring of emotion, and it’s fair to say that managing not to lose what was billed as a “mustn’t lose” game isn’t quite on a par with Madness playing on the roof of Buck House.

But it was a solid start and England will be hoping that if they can produce a little more flair they have every chance of going One Step Beyond Sweden and one step nearer to the quarter finals.

Unlike the World Cup six years ago in Germany, even the appearance of several Wags at the base camp in Krakow this week has singularly failed to dominate the media landscape as it did in Baden-Baden.

Indeed the sight of Theo Walcott and his girlfriend strolling arm in arm through the main square barely raised an eyebrow.

This appears to be the most focused England squad in years; an honest, hardworking and unassuming bunch who have a refreshingly keen eye on the future rather than the somewhat depressing national trait of hankering, misty eyes back to the past.

This is probably just as well, since history tells us that not once has an England team ever beaten a Swedish one in tournament football.

Reports from the current Swedish camp suggest that that run could be about to come to an end. Their opening match defeat against Ukraine was followed by bitter recriminations and reports that huge divisions have developed within the squad.

To paraphrase their most famous compatriots, it seems the Swedes could be heading for their Waterloo rather than being the winners that take it all.

If England are to achieve that latter aim, they will need to be more positive than against France when their only effort on target was Joleon Lescott’s goal.

To that end expect Andy Carroll to partner Danny Welbeck up front and Ashley Young to drop to left midfield at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Roy Hodgson will expect his men to win more possession, use the ball better, deliver the final pass more accurately and finish more clinically than against France.

Not surprising then that, in one of his more rueful moments, the England boss lamented the continued absence of Wayne Rooney, whose new haircut alone would be enough to scare most defenders.

Although England’s competitive record against Sweden is woeful, there are always two sides to every story and statistics can provide hope as well as trepidation.

England traditionally struggle in their opening games (even 1966 began with a dire goalless draw against Uruguay) but they do tend to be more successful in that “difficult second match.” There’s also the record of Hodgson himself; four times he has faced Sweden as manager of either Switzerland or Finland and not once has he tasted defeat.

And victory over them at the helm of his own nation in Kiev tonight might even have the music loving Hodgson singing “I Have A Dream.”

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