Sweden 2 England 3: Lessons from a Theo Walcott-inspired victory
What did we learn from England's dramatic 3-2 victory over Sweden in Group D at the European championship?
Super sub Walcott
Theo Walcott has promised so much in his Arsenal and England career to date, and few doubt his natural ability, but his lack of consistency has prevented him from becoming a mainstay of the national team. Roy Hodgson preferred the option of James Milner against both France and Sweden, and while the Manchester City midfielder undoubtedly offers right-back Glen Johnson protection, he lacks any threat from wide positions with no pace or trickery. With England trailing 2-1, Hodgson handed Walcott a chance to impress, and the Gunners forward rose to the occasion. From an England corner, a hurried clearance fell to Walcott – his first-time strike wrong-footed Andreas Isaksson and looped into the net. It was a crucial response from Hodgson’s side after falling behind, but there was better to come from Walcott in the 74th minute. The 23-year-old drove at the Swedish defence, clipping a cross into the six-yard box, and Danny Welbeck produced an innovative flick to guide his finish beyond Isaksson and into the bottom-left corner. It was a classy touch which rivalled the genius of Zlatan Ibrahimović, and notably manufactured by the brilliance of Walcott. Should the Arsenal forward start against Ukraine? It would be no surprise to see Hodgson revert to a more conservative line-up, but on merit, Walcott should be in the first-team for the final Group D game in Donetsk.
Cause for concern for Hodgson
Hodgson’s appointment appeared to culture a new sense of confidence in the England’s back four, with a disciplined midfield helping their defensive colleagues earn successive clean sheets in warm-up wins against Belgium and Norway. Even Samir Nasri’s strike in the opening game was put down to the French midfielder’s brilliance more than a defensive error from Hodgson’s men. But for the first time under Fabio Capello’s successor, England looked frail and the fact that a 34-year-old Olof Mellberg netted twice for Sweden will be of grave concern to the Three Lions manager. Admittedly, the former Aston Villa defender’s first goal was a tad fortuitous, with Ibrahimović’s free-kick hitting England’s defensive wall before the Swedish captain’s lobbed pass was deflected into the path of Mellberg. The centre-half’s scuffed effort was almost kept out by Johnson’s desperate clearance but the woodwork directed the ball into Hart’s net. However, there was no element of luck about Sweden’s second – England completely switched off as the opposition swung in a free-kick, and Mellberg rose unmarked to put Erik Hamrén’s side ahead. Much has been made of England’s lack of creativity and Gerrard aside, they looked bereft of ideas throughout large periods of the match. But their supposed banker was their ability to frustrate and prevent the opposition from scoring – a message which Hodgson will need to drill into his squad moving forward.
Carroll emphatically answers his critics
Andy Carroll has been subjected to fierce scrutiny since his £35m move from Newcastle United to Liverpool in January 2011 – a record fee for a British player. He arrived from Anfield fresh from an impressive opening five months in the Premier League, netting 11 times. However, the 23-year-old struggled to justify his hefty price tag, with a return of just 11 goals in 53 appearances. Kenny Dalglish’s continued support of his imposing target man appeared to pay dividends towards the back end of the season as Carroll scored the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton, followed by a strike in the final as Liverpool suffered a 2-1 defeat by Chelsea. The series of bustling performances convinced Hodgson to bring Carroll to Euro 2012 – a surprise inclusion – and he picked the Liverpool striker to face a suspect Swedish defence. It was a statement of intent as Hodgson fielded an attacking line-up, and the decision was vindicated by Carroll’s goal in the 23rd minute. The forward’s movement was superb for the goal, peeling of Andreas Granqvist’s shoulder and emphatically heading past Isaksson. Amid the bedlam after the interval, Carroll’s presence was utilised in a defensive sense, picking up Ibrahimović at set-pieces. Overall, it was a good performance, but Hodgson will more than likely partner Welbeck with Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney for the Ukraine game.
Rooney’s return imminent as records tumble
A particularly poor spell between the 46th minute and 66th minute took the gloss of what should have been an historic night for England. Remarkably, prior to the clash in Kiev, Sweden had never lost a competitive game to the Three Lions, with their seven previous encounters ending with two wins and five draws. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side came closest to ending this unfavourable record at the World Cup in 2006, with Gerrard and Joe Cole netting, before Celtic legend Henrik Larsson scored a dramatic equaliser in added time. Under Capello, England did manage a 1-0 victory against the Scandinavians which was their first in 43 years, and Hodgson’s men made hard work of ending their winless record in competitive ties. However, looking at the positives, Walcott’s impact will have pleased Hodgson, as will his side’s character to come from behind – a feat completed only once before by England at a European championship in a 4-2 victory against Croatia in 2004. The return of Rooney will offer some hope to England supporters that this team can produce something special. There is plenty to ponder for Hodgson – either Carroll or Welbeck will be omitted to accommodate Rooney, Young was particularly poor on the left side of midfield, while Walcott’s 20 minute cameo surely warrants a starting spot against Ukraine. Despite the manner of the victory, it is three crucial points and England are on course to reach the quarter finals.
Like The Sport Review on Facebook: