England's second game in Euro 2012 pitted them against the Swedes in Kiev. On paper it looked like an exciting matchup. On the pitch it turned out to be a cracker of a match.
In the first game the English were out thought and outplayed by the French and were most certainly the happier of the two teams with the eventual 1-1 result. Roy Hodgson, seeking to make a statement of intent in this crucial match made one change to the team, Andy Carroll replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the first eleven.
Hodgson adopted a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate Carroll who played along Danny Welbeck upfront with James Milner and Ashley Young providing the width. The introduction of Andy Carroll would later prove to be an astute decision.
The game was scrappy in the initial minutes with both teams trying to find their feet on a damp pitch.
The first shot in anger in the match was by the English, a stinging shot by Scott Parker in the seventh minute that required an agile save by Andreas Isaksson in the Swedish goal. Parker provided the fulcrum of the English attack in the early stages with Steven Gerrard contenting himself with operating from a slightly withdrawn position in the midfield.
The English wing play was more evident in the right side of the pitch through-out the first half. James Milner provided a good outlet on that side of the pitch sending several inviting crosses in the box with one particular cross in the 14th minute that was met by Wellbeck just missing the upright. Ashley Young was more subdued in the first half and save for a few runs did not utilize his blistering pace to good effect.
Olof Mellberg had the duty of containing Andy Carroll. He was given no peace for most of the match. Andy Carroll showed in this match that given a chance he can give even the most hardened defenders a torrid time. Mellberg was of more use down the other side of the pitch as unfolding events were to show.
Ibrahimovich was deployed in his traditional No.10 role just behind the main striker. He was the most constant source of attack for the Swedish in the first half.
In the 12th minute a shot by Sebastian Larsson marked the first attack by the Swedes. The shot was comfortably collected by Hart who was kept busy on several occasions in the first half.
In the 17th minute a sublime cross by Olsson to Ibrahimovich almost eluded the England back four. Glen Johnson just made it back in time to smother the attack.
The player that caused the English back four most problems in the first half was Ibrahimovich. Time and time again he tested the resoluteness of John Terry and could have made more of a difference if he had more support from Elmander. In the 33rd minute for instance Ibrahimovich weaved past several English players but however could not match the mazy run with a clinical finish.
In the 22nd minute the English finally had the breakthrough, in a well choreographed move Steven Gerrard swung an inviting cross into the six yard area that his team mate at Liverpool Andy Carroll rose to meet with a towering header right between the two Scandinavian centre backs. The cross was perfect with the right amount of pace and bend. The finish was emphatic.
Steven Gerrard is proving to be very valuable in the tournament so far with two assists already both sublime crosses into the danger zone. He was quietly confident marshalling the midfield and exuding confidence all through the game.
In the 36th minute Ashley Young missed a glorious chance to put the English 2-0 up after being put through by Ashley Cole down the left channel. The chance went begging marking a close to the first half.
The English performance in the first half was above average with the midfield duo of Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard handling their duties well. Andy Carroll made a suitable nuisance of himself. The back four however seemed uncertain at set pieces.
In the second half the Swedes started brightly, attacking from the word go. In the 48th minute a foul by goal scorer Carroll gave the Swedes a free kick in a promising position. The resultant free-kick by Ibrahimovich hit the wall but a melee in the penalty area ended with Mellberg scrambling the ball over the line despite the desperate efforts by Glen Johnson.
The English had clearly not learnt their lesson, a last ditch tackle by Glen Johnson a minute later snuffed out a Swedish attack but in the next move the Swedes were two one up. Larsson dispatched an inviting cross into the box following a Milner foul. With the English defence fast asleep Mellberg met the inch perfect cross with a simple header. The English were rocking from the Swedish onslaught.
Roy Hodgson responded immediately sending in Theo Walcott for James Milner.
The substitution proved to be an inspired one. In a game of twists and turns Walcott scored with basically his first touch of the ball sending a ferocious right foot shot into the Swedish net in the 63rd minute. The English fans who had until then been dumbfounded found their voices once again.
Ibrahimovich must have thought he had gotten a fifth goal in consecutive games when his goal bound pile driver of a shot in the 76th minute brought out a sharp reaction save by Joe Hart.
A further twist to this intriguing game happened in the 77th minute. Walcott who had constantly troubled the Swedish back four drove between two defenders on the right before passing to Wellbeck. The Manchester United striker with a sublime twist and turn and an impudent back heel put the English back in front.
Erik Hamre the Swedish coach responded instantly as had his English counterpart to falling behind. Markus Rosenberg was brought in for Elmander and Wilhelmsson for Elm in an effort to turn the game in the Swedes favour.
Despite Steven Gerrard missing a sitter in the 92nd minute after a rapid counter attack, the English were, in the end able to valiantly pull over the finish line beating the Swedes 3-2.
Roy Hodgson and his team may be satisfied with the result but certainly one will suspect not with the defensive performance.
Every time the Swedes attacked the English looked vulnerable. They looked particularly shaky at set pieces. Roy Hodgson will have a lot of work to do to instill confidence and discipline in the back four before their next match up against the Ukraine. It is always difficult playing against the home team and especially in the circumstances of the group where a Ukraine win will likely give them a quarter final berth. The English may need to look at other defensive options and strategy. John Terry looked particularly at sea.
The midfield put in an admirable shift and the strikers earned their pay. One feels that the English are just getting started and with Wayne Rooney coming on board for the last group match, the English look a certain bet to make it to the last eight.
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