England end Sweden hoodoo
A devastating cameo from Theo Walcott and magical finish from Danny Welbeck saw England end their hoodoo against Sweden after a 3-2 win.
Last Updated: 15/06/12 11:33pm
A devastating cameo from Theo Walcott and magical finish from Danny Welbeck saw England end their hoodoo against Sweden after a 3-2 win in Kiev.
England had never previously beaten Sweden in a competitive fixture and things were looking ominous in this Group D encounter when Olof Mellberg's early second-half double had cancelled out Andy Carroll's imperious opener.
However, substitute Walcott's introduction swung the momentum back in England's favour as he equalised before creating the winner for Welbeck to leave England in a strong position to progress and Sweden on their way home from Euro 2012.
Scott Parker produced a flying save from Andreas Isaksson on seven minutes after an improvised one-two with Welbeck, but there was nothing the Sweden goalkeeper could do about England's opener on 23 minutes.
Steven Gerrard directed an angled ball into the box and his Liverpool team-mate Carroll eluded his marker to power home a header from near the penalty spot.
Ashley Young wasted a good chance before half-time, but whatever the two coaches said at the break, Erik Hamren's words had the most positive effect as Sweden turned the game on its head within 15 minutes.
After Carroll had given away a needless free-kick, and England had failed to avert the danger, Mellberg eventually saw his shot cross the line despite Glen Johnson's desperate attempts to clear.
If there was fortune about his first goal, the former Aston Villa defender would not have believed his luck at the space he was afforded on 59 minutes to head home Sebastian Larsson's inswinging free-kick.
Roy Hodgson responded by throwing on Walcott for James Milner and the England coach was rewarded within three minutes when the Arsenal winger lashed home a dipping shot from the edge of the area.
Joe Hart produced a brilliant save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic before Walcott's pace had Sweden retreating inside their penalty area on 78 minutes and his cross was superbly flicked home by Welbeck.
Captain Gerrard had a late chance to score a fourth, but was denied by an excellent reaction stop from Isaksson as England held on to secure a win which leaves them needing to only avoid defeat against co-hosts Ukraine on Tuesday to ensure qualification for the quarter-finals.
England made just the one change from Monday's 1-1 draw with France as Carroll started alongside Welbeck, with Ashley Young moving to the left wing and teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench.
There was no sign of the drama to come during a drab first half. Parker brought a fine save out of Isaksson after Welbeck rolled an inviting lay-off into his path.
Welbeck guided a header wide from James Milner's cross too when the Manchester United striker probably should have tested Isaksson.
Sweden had a few half-chances and Larsson brought a decent save out of Hart.
However, with Ibrahimovic enduring one of those evenings when English fans wonder what the fuss is all about, Sweden seemed to be there for the taking.
The opportunity England craved was a while in coming and, as so often, Gerrard provided it. The skipper launched an inviting cross into the box as Carroll got between defenders and rose majestically to power his header into the bottom corner.
Much as he may bristle at what is perceived to be the criticism of straight-forward tactics, if England are good at it, Hodgson should make no apology for playing to such strengths.
It is not as though England are incapable of incisive passing when it suits.
Cole threaded an excellent ball through Sweden's defence for Young to run on to. A poor first touch cost the Manchester United winger valuable momentum, though, and he ended up snatching at his shot, which Isaksson saved by the near post.
How galling so much good work was undone within four minutes of the restart.
Carroll needlessly brought down Kim Kallstrom and, in lifting the ball back into the box after his initial free-kick had been blocked, Ibrahimovic could not have expected to pick out Mellberg, completely unmarked, eight yards out.
Hart made a terrific one-handed save, only for the ball to bounce straight into Johnson, whose desperate attempt to keep it out of the net met with failure.
Worse was to come. Having proved how adept they at scoring from deep crosses, England showed a shuddering ineptitude at defending them as Larsson drove a touchline free-kick deep into the box.
Despite so many bodies around him, Mellberg was completely on his own and gave Hart no chance from point-blank range.
Hodgson took immediate action, replacing Milner with Walcott. Once again his decision was a master-stroke.
Three minutes later, Walcott, hanging back at a Gerrard corner, collected the loose ball from a Sweden clearance, and with defenders and attackers merging in a frenzy of movement to retake their positions, fired through the lot.
Isaksson, unsighted, was totally deceived and could only watch helplessly as the shot flew past him, only a few inches away but completely out of reach.
It was Walcott's first goal since that hat-trick in Croatia almost four years ago - and probably his best international performance too.
The goal blitz had squeezed the contest completely out of shape. Even though both sides could still advance with a last-game triumph as things stood, neither were prepared to settle for it.
Hart shovelled Ibrahimovic's shot wide before England countered and got their winner.
Walcott drove toward the by-line, he pulled a cross back to the near post, where Welbeck, instinctively, back-heeled it in.
The result leaves Hodgson wondering how to restore star man Wayne Rooney to his starting line-up given Carroll and Welbeck were so impressive. hat is a problem for another day.
Gerrard was foiled by Isaksson in stoppage-time to deny England a more handsome final scoreline.
But in the best tournament for decades, England have joined the party.