The second round of group stage fixtures finished with the engine of England facing the cowardly-performers – words of their managers – Sweden. England took an early lead after a thumping header by Andy Carroll before Olof Mellberg, who was aptly named Man of the Match (presumably because of his mountaineering beard), scored two to turn the game on its head. Impressively, England managed to stage a dramatic turnaround of their own to win the game, the introduction of speed-of-sound pace-ster Theo Walcott proving an overload for tired Swedish legs.
England playing to their strengths
Andy Carroll may never justify his £35m fee but today – and the final few matches of the season for Liverpool – he proved his aerial superiority still hasn’t declined. With the aid of sufficient delivery into the box, he gives England a truly unique and indefensible aerial option in the tournament. True, against teams which are vastly superior on the ball he may be reduced to a hustling and bustling spectator, but his goal today alone justified his place in the squad and he could be a very valuable player to come off the bench.
The introduction of Theo Walcott
The Arsenal man divides opinion with a large school of thought still deeming him as speedster who is incapable of engaging brain when decision-making. That is partly true, but over the last few months Walcott has been increasingly impressive in his final delivery, assisting Robin van Persie in the unassuming manner of a pensioner going for a holiday in the Isle of Wight. Sure, starting him would still be risky, James Milner remains the safe option in terms of the system Hodgson likes to deploy, but Walcott’s pace from the bench is invaluable and will certainly give teams a tactical question to decipher.
Where was the expansive brand of football, Sweden?
Judging a team over the course of two games is slightly unfair, but I’ll do it anyway as life isn’t fair. Pre-tournament, the general consensus was that this Swedish team was atypical in comparison to those of the past, with their new, expansive style of football the most dished out appraisal. Naturally, I was looking forward to seeing them, there are players in their squad who i’m particularly fond of – Kim Kallstrom, Olof Mellberg, Anders Svensson, to name a few. Yet, aside from industrious, even if slightly over-indulgent performances of Ibrahimovic, there has been few signs of this expansive brand of football and it saddens me to see them knocked out. The highly-rated Rasmus Elm seemed to be struck by the stage fright that he claimed he had as a youngster and his performances so far at the tournament, even when Sweden were in the ascendancy, would have been met with arched eyebrows from the ‘big’ clubs interested in him.
In the match we learned that there is a sense of togetherness and ice-cool calmness about this England team. Although there are some relatively inexperienced names playing in their first tournament in there, they did manage to turn it around at a time when they could have seen the sensationalist critical headlines being written in the blink of an eye. The next match against Ukraine will be a major test as it is a must-win game for the co-hosts. That match, then, should tell us even more about England from a tactical and psychological point of view, a draw will be enough but playing for a draw is a very dangerous game.
The Rooney dilemma
The fear before the tournament has been buried. England march into the final group game still with a very good chance of qualification, which means Wayne Rooney can still play a key role in the tournament. Or can he? Bar the first 25 minutes of this match, England, even if unspectacular, have looked like a team and, more importantly, have got the job done. Will the return of Rooney disrupt that balance? Aside from changing what has so far worked there would be little reason not to re-introduce Wazza. Against tougher opposition where England need to win, they would need the sublime use of the ball that the Manchester United man possesses on the counter-attack and his understanding with Welbeck cannot be understated.