England well happy with Welbeck

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

GROUP D: ENGLAND 3 SWEDEN 2:THERE WAS a point here when all of England’s old failings had resurfaced and the match was straying dangerously close to an almost implausible ordeal. Sweden had turned the game upside-down with two goals early in the second half and, at that point, it looked like Roy Hodgson’s team might finish the evening at the bottom of Group D.

What followed was a triumph for England’s spirit and togetherness and the perseverance for which they are renowned. Yet there was more to it than simple old-fashioned guts. Danny Welbeck’s winning goal, after an equaliser from substitute Theo Walcott, was an outrageously executed flick.

Walcott had made it 2-2 barely three minutes after Hodgson had introduced him for James Milner and, for the England manager, this was ultimately a highly successful night in terms of his decision-making. The selection of Andy Carroll was justified with the opening goal and, though Olof Mellberg’s quick one-two for Sweden gave England an almighty scare, they have put themselves in a position of strength going into their final game against the co-hosts Ukraine next Tuesday.

By then, Wayne Rooney will be back from suspension and eager to show his foolish kick on Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic last October need not have grave ramifications eight months later.

Rooney’s return should give England’s attack a more refined look and Hodgson’s players are entitled to be encouraged when it comes to analysing how their opponents lost to France.

Ukraine looked an ordinary side with little penetration and lacking attacking ideas.

The same could be said of England sometimes but Carroll’s inclusion now looks like the most commendable decision yet of the Hodgson era. Not quite a masterstroke, but not too far off and fully justifying the manager’s belief that Sweden might be susceptible to defending crosses.

Andriy Shevchenko had exposed this weakness in this stadium on Monday and Hodgson’s research had shown that six of the previous seven goals Sweden had conceded had all come from headers.

Carroll’s game is not entirely built on his physical presence and ability to elude and out-jump defenders but it is a considerable part of his artillery and when England have a player of Steven Gerrard’s crossing ability there was clear sense in this strategy.

Carroll had been anticipating his Liverpool team-mate would know precisely where he wanted it. Gerrard was close to the right touchline, but so far away from goal that not many players in that position would have even attempted the cross. The trajectory was perfect and Carroll had moved between Sweden’s right-back, Andreas Granqvist, and the closest centre half, Mellberg. It was a purposeful run and the header was a mix of power and precision.

The England strategy at this stage was certainly not all route-one stuff. There was an emphasis on attacking from the flanks, and England played with enough control to forgive them for the occasional moment of carelessness such as Milner allowing Gerrard’s pass to go under his foot for a throw-in or Lescott under-hitting a routine pass and Sebastian Larsson intercepting the ball.

By half-time England were looking sharp and confident. They had restricted Sweden to a couple of long-range attempts and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not causing too many problems. But what followed was extraordinary and, in the worst moments, England seemed on the brink of capitulation.

Four minutes into the second half Carroll made a poor attempt to tackle Kim Kallstrom, succeeded only in giving away a free-kick and Sweden suddenly took command. Ibrahimovic’s first shot rebounded off the defensive wall. The second was a toe-poke which fell fortuitously to Mellberg inside the penalty area. He took aim with his left foot and, though Hart managed to get a hand to the ball, it flicked off his fingertips and struck Glen Johnson’s midriff on its way into the goal.

The equaliser had scarcely been deserved but the night was to get worse for England just before the hour.

This time it was their own deficiencies when it came to dealing with high balls that were evident. Larsson’s free-kick was delivered into the six-yard area and the marking was poor as Mellberg positioned himself and then directed his header beyond Hart.

The turnaround had been so quick England deserve credit, at least, for refusing to bend any further. Johnson’s cross for John Terry would have brought another headed goal but for a brilliant point-blank save from Isaksson but the Swedish goalkeeper will wince when he sees the replays of Walcott’s goal. The ball was struck well enough, and there was a slight deflection off Larsson, but Isaksson wrong-footed himself when the shot was almost straight into the middle of the goal.

The best was reserved for last, with a little over 10 minutes remaining, Walcott set off on a darting run. He reached the byline then cut the ball into the six-yard area. The cross was slightly behind Welbeck but he improvised brilliantly, spinning his body and scoring with a wonderfully taken flick.

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