England needs historic win over Sweeden
KRAKOW, Poland - The Associated Press
Glen Johnson. AFP PhotoWorn out after pushing itself to the limit against France, England needs to produce something it has never before achieved at a major tournament: a victory over Sweden.
Three times the English have tried, and three times they have failed. Even when a Swede, Sven-Goran Eriksson, was in charge at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, England couldn’t do it.
But that foreboding record hasn’t earned the respect of England heading into today’s must-win European Championship match, according to Anders Svensson, the most experienced player on Sweden’s team.
“Maybe you think you are a little bit better than you are, and that we are a little bit better than you think we are,” the veteran midfielder said on June 13, responding to an English journalist.
“You don’t think that much about the Swedish team, and never have. I think we’re a good team, I think we’re on the same level as England and have been for a long time ... I don’t think England has the same respect for us as they have for France.”
England did end a 43-year wait for a victory over Sweden in November, but the Wembley meeting was only a friendly.
And after being held to a 1-1 draw by France on June 11 in Group D, England cannot afford to repeat the ponderous, ultra-defensive play it has employed in the three games under Roy Hodgson.
“We know as a team we want to get forward and get more goals, get more bodies into our attacking third and create more opportunities,” England striker Danny Welbeck said. “When they arrive the strikers will be ready to put them in.”
That’s harder when England is without its only genuine world class attacking threat, with Wayne Rooney serving the final match of his two-match suspension.
But Rooney is still having an impact on the team, mentoring Welbeck, his Manchester United teammate who started against France.
“He’s always there giving me advice on and off the pitch,” Welbeck said. “Just before the games, at halftime ... he’s just always there just letting you know what to do in the games, or if he’s seen a weakness in the opposition how you can exploit that.”
Sweden’s weakness coping with aerial threats could be the area to exploit in Kiev, and that could strengthen Andy Carroll’s claims for a starting role.
In three straight games, Sweden has conceded goals from corners. And in Monday’s 2-1 loss to Ukraine, Andriy Shevchenko’s two goals were both headers where the Swedish defense was badly exposed.
On the same night, England’s only goal against France came from defender Joleon Lescott’s header.
“They are strong, especially maybe on set pieces,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said. “We have a problem right now, yes. ... But if you take it in a wider perspective, it’s no real issue.” The Ukraine loss has turned the England and France games into “do or die” for Sweden, according to midfielder Kim Kallstrom.
But forward Johan Elmander, who is recovering from a foot fracture, is now primed to start against England.
Having his pace and size up front from the start against England could open up more space for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his playmaker role.
While the 30-year-old Ibrahimovic has scored 32 goals in 78 internationals, the 21-year-old Welbeck has just one goal in six games for England.
And the closest he’s come to Ibrahimovic is from his sofa.
“I was really watching the Premier League (growing up), but on video games if you’ve got Ibrahimovic on your team you’re not sad,” Welbeck said. “We know the qualities he’s got.”