Welbeck winner keeps Euros alive
Friday, 15 June, 2012
Thrilling first competitive victory over Sweden leaves Euro progress open for England
By Nicholas Veevers
England’s Euro campaign continued in thrilling fashion on Friday night, as a first-ever competitive victory over Sweden means the Three Lions go into their final Group D match with Ukraine next week knowing that if they avoid defeat then a quarter-final spot will be theirs.
Admittedly, Roy Hodgson’s men didn’t make it easy for themselves at times, having to stage a second-half comeback after two goals from Sweden in ten minutes reversed England’s half-time lead.
The introduction of substitute Theo Walcott changed the game though, with the Arsenal man netting an equaliser before supplying Danny Welbeck with a fine cross to find an exquisite winning goal.
Aside from Welbeck’s winner and a super opening goal from Andy Carroll, there was little finesse or real quality on show from either side but what the match might have lacked in top class technique, it didn’t disappoint in terms of entertainment with both sides giving it absolutely everything in terms of passion and heart and that’s what made for such an intriguing contest.
However, Hodgson will know that his side need to show further improvement on Tuesday night, particularly in possession and in their game management, when they play joint-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk. A draw or victory there will be enough to secure a passage into the last eight, but with the character shown and glimpses of just what they can do in this game, England will head back to the Donbass Arena in good spirits.
It was clear from the offset in Kiev that Sweden wanted to keep the game compact and with almost two lines of defence in the opening stages, space was at a premium for England in the final third and there was little sign of what was to come in the second half.
There was almost a breakthrough in the eighth minute though, as the ball was worked to Scott Parker on the edge of the area and his shot at goal was well saved by the giant Andreas Isaksson in the Swedish goal.
A fine cross from the right by James Milner then picked out Welbeck in the centre, but the Manchester United man glanced his header wide of the post as England made the early running.
At the other end, dangerman Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked in playful mood and he conjured up Sweden’s first effort of note with a low shot from 25 yards, but Joe Hart made a comfortable save low to his right.
The lead that England had warranted came in the 23rd minute. Captain Steven Gerrard superbly controlled a Martin Olsson clearance on the right-hand side, before instantly placing a diagonal centre for his Liverpool team-mate Carroll to plant a firm header past Isaksson. It was a stunning cross and finish from the Anfield duo and silenced the Swedish masses within the Olympic Stadium.
Finding themselves a goal behind, Sweden had to come out of their shell which led to more space across the pitch for England and with just under ten minutes left in the first-half, Ashley Young spurned a decent opportunity in the area after being played in by Ashley Cole on the left. With Welbeck and Carroll both well positioned in the area, Young chose to shoot himself but dragged his effort wide of the near post.
Sweden had shown signs of life though and they started the second-half with all guns blazing and found an equaliser within five minutes of the restart. An Ibrahimovic free-kick was blocked by the wall, but when the big striker smashed the ball back into the crowd of players inside the England area, it landed at Olof Mellberg’s feet and his shot squeezed past Hart and into the goal, despite the best efforts of Glen Johnson on the line.
If that was a blow for England, worse was to follow in the 58th minute, as Seb Larsson’s free-kick into the area was poorly dealt with by the English defence and former Aston Villa defender Mellberg was on the spot to nod home past the exposed Hart and turn the game on its head.
England rallied and Isaksson kept his team in front in the 63rd minute, as Johnson’s cross was headed goalwards by John Terry only for the ‘keeper to make a point-blank save.
Moments later, England were level as the resulting corner was knocked out as far as Walcott who smashed home from the edge of the area with one of his first touches, his shot wrong-footing Isaksson and finding the roof of the net.
Sweden predictably came back onto the front foot and the game went into its own, with both teams scrapping for a crucial winning goal.
Kim Kallstrom saw a shot fly over the bar following a smart run forward and pass from Olsson, before Hart had to make a good save to turn away a powerful, swirling shot from Sweden's talisman Ibrahimovic.
The game swung back in England’s favour in the 78th minute though as Walcott turned provider this time, collecting a Johnson pass and darting past two men and into the area before cutting back a cross into the middle for Welbeck who instinctively back-heeled the ball past Isaksson to restore the lead.
It could have been four for England in added time, as a break and cross by Walcott saw Isaksson make another stunning save to deny Gerrard’s left-foot volley from point blank range.
Fortunately, that wasn’t to matter as England held on to their hard-earned lead to send Sweden crashing out of the competition and leave their Euro future in their own hands.