Flickin' a la Kiev
It was a dizzy night and, by the end, Roy Hodgson could confidently look ahead to England's chances of reaching the quarter-finals while Sweden contemplated an early exit.india Updated: Jun 17, 2012 01:56 IST
It was a dizzy night and, by the end, Roy Hodgson could confidently look ahead to England's chances of reaching the quarter-finals while Sweden contemplated an early exit. "The operation was good, but the patient is dead," Erik Hamren, the Sweden manager, reflected. Yet England are alive and well, needing only a draw from their final group fixture against Ukraine to confirm a place in the last eight.
This was a triumph for spirit and togetherness and all the qualities of perseverance for which England teams are renowned. They responded with two goals of their own and there was more to it than simple old-fashioned guts. England did not just win, they did so in a manner that illuminated this tournament and showed that they have the capacity to thrill rather than being simply a functional team.Great goal
The decisive goal was a case in point, a piece of improvisational brilliance from Danny Welbeck that deserves its place in the portfolio of great Euro 2012 moments. Theo Walcott had made it 2-2 within three minutes of replacing James Milner and, for Hodgson, that made it a highly successful night in terms of his own decision-making.
His selection of Andy Carroll was justified with the opening goal and, though Olof Mellberg's double reminds us this is still very much a work in progress, England have put themselves in a position of strength going into their final game in Donetsk on Tuesday.
The downside came in the form of the near-collapse at the start of the second half when Sweden scored twice in quick succession and it was alarming to see the ease with which they got through from two set pieces. The second goal, in particular, will have troubled a man with Hodgson's regard for defensive structure.
At that point an unhappy sense of deja vu was descending for an England side who have been reminded all week that Sweden had not lost any of their previous seven fixtures when these sides meet in tournaments. Yet the drama of this second half was almost unrelenting and England's players deserve credit for the speed at which they cleared their heads. Within a minute Andreas Isaksson, the Sweden goalkeeper, had kept out John Terry's header from point-blank range, but Erik Hamren's team were undermined all night by erratic defending and Walcott began the comeback in the 64th minute, firing in a dipping, swerving shot that deceived Isaksson. Walcott then set up Welbeck's winner with a darting run that took him to the byline before firing a low centre into the six-yard area. The cross was slightly behind Welbeck but the striker anticipated it brilliantly, spinning his body and scoring with a wonderfully-taken flick.
While Hodgson admitted the form of Carroll and Welbeck had given him a welcome selection dilemma, he acknowledged there was no chance that Rooney would be left out against Ukraine now his two-match suspension has ended. "I welcome those kinds of selection problems, but Wayne Rooney is a very special player and it would be very difficult for me to leave him out of the team."
Striking early | Alive and kicking