Euro 2012: #3 The tactical victory we’ve waited years for

England 3-2 Sweden – 15/6/12, 8pm 

“You’re just hoping your quality will shine through in the end and I’m very delighted that we could win this game against a very good Swedish team” [Roy Hodgson] 

“There’s just something about Roy’s team which seems different. Can we mash the Swedes? The signs are good,” I claimed after seeing England draw the opener with France. I was in a positive mood ahead of the big Sweden game despite having never beaten them in a competitive game. Until now! That final part from blog #2 was right; there is something different about Roy’s England which I haven’t seen in the six international tournaments I’ve endured. This England are adaptable to differing formations; Roy played a tactical masterstroke this time. This England are battlers; it was almost as if going two-one down made them want the win more. And this England are enjoying playing; there’s smiles and harmony in the camp whereas previously it’s an unwanted chore to wear the Three Lions. 

Ok let’s not get carried away, we beat a disappointing Sweden side for the second time in eight months. And we conceded poor goals from a veteran defender who has a beard akin to a desert island dweller. But it was the manner of the win which impressed me and inspired me more than anything. The England team showed heart and spirit and, despite the two-goal blip in a terrible ten minutes, the positive attitude was notable. Going into the game a lot were significantly more confident about winning this game than they were six weeks ago. Even more so after Monday. The tough game of the group was out the way; the tough opposition, the tough earlier kick off conditions and the tough task replacing the suspended Rooney. If we were going to win any of the games this Friday night clash with bogey team Sweden was top of the list. If anyone could beat them though Roy could. He is held in such high regard there and he knows how they play. His knowledge would be key to this success. 

Much like immediately before the French clash, the team news against the Swedes brought about a surprise and a new face to international tournament football. £35 million Liverpool striker Andy Carroll came in, with the exciting and impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the unlucky man to lose out. Carroll started up front alongside Danny Welbeck in an apparent 4-4-2 formation; Ashley Young dropped back from just behind the striker to fill in on the left wing vacated by The Ox. Roy Hodgson explained the change was to counter the big, physical strength of the Swedes in both boxes. Andy Carroll was brought in to provide a big, attacking presence but also defend his own area when the likes of Mellberg and Ibrahimovic come up for set pieces. Roy the Redeemer employed new tactics and I was intrigued to see if they’d work or if we’d see that familiar, disappointing England of tournaments past. 

In truth the conclusion is a bit of both really; the tactics did work and Roy’s management won us the game but we also saw glimpses of the England of old. Thankfully those glimpses were outnumbered by the many positive moments Friday night’s game showed. The first half went about as well as we could have hoped for; one-nil up looking rather comfortable. Sweden didn’t trouble Hart’s goal too much, which was a relief considering his somewhat shaky performance four days previously. It was, as expected, physically demanding and strong challenges were flying in everywhere. Scott Parker stood up to it well but there was always the fear that he could be outmuscled and leant off the ball. He typified the change in the England attitude, he seemed determined not to get pushed off the ball and the desire shown was admirable. He was my man of the match, but then again as a defender I think I appreciate the gritty defending more than attacking flair. 

The first half attacking flair was led through a captain’s performance from Steven Gerrard. Perhaps slightly less so in the second half, Gerrard bossed the first forty-five and it was his excellent cross which brought about the opening goal. Liverpool team-mates combined to break the deadlock; Gerrard crossed from a very deep position and his perfect delivery was headed home expertly by big Andy Carroll. One-nil England and one-nil to Hodgson there. Before the tournament I was concerned by the large amount of Liverpool players occupying the squad, particularly after a poor season from them. The likes of Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly I wouldn’t recognise if I was sitting next to them. But I suppose that probably says more about me than it does them. The goal was one England goal-scoring greats Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker would be proud of. Suitably the pair were sitting in the BBC studio back home to give their verdict on the game. Although in more than six seasons working as a regular pundit the only insight Shearer gives is to how cosy it is to work on Match of the Day where clichés and a lack of research is rewarded with a contract extension, ‘banter’ and chumminess is vital and any hint of detailed, intelligent research is met with disbelief and bafflement. To say MotD is like the 19th hole on the golf course is both accurate and frustrating. I’m not a fan of BBC football. 

The only sign of intelligence came in the form of pitchside pundit David James. The former England goalkeeper, in discussion with Martin Keown and Gabby Logan at the stadium during the interval, pointed out that at times England’s formation wasn’t as rigid as it had been in game one and there were opportunities for Sweden to exploit if they took their chances. This of course was disregarded by the longest serving pundit Alan Hansen, who maintained that England would win the game comfortably and would go on to score another couple without reply. Anyone who’s seen England over the past decade would know that’s never the case. Even though The Redeemer’s turning things around now he’s still only won by a single goal margin both times and are more defensive minded. 

David James was correct in his cautious warning and shortly after the break Sweden equalised with what’s been credited as an own-goal to Glen Johnson. He was another Liverpool player to play a significant part in the game; the own-goal his only blot on an otherwise top-class performance. My mind was still confident England would come back and regain the lead at some stage, knowing a draw would probably not be enough. I wasn’t expecting what happened next. The ball was lobbed in from a free kick given away by a petulant trip by Carroll, still smarting from an incident seconds before where he thought he was fouled. Sweden had a free kick in a dangerous position and right on cue huge, veteran defender Mellberg put them two-one up from a header six yards out. Disaster had struck, England were behind for the first time under Roy. The hateful Ibrahimovic celebrated in a terrible manner, squaring up to goalkeeper Hart, swearing and gesturing arrogantly in his face. Words can’t describe just what a waste and a prick that man is. He missed out on the opportunity to join Arsenal after saying that “’Zlats’ doesn’t do trials.” Thus confirming the general rule that anyone who refers to themselves by a nickname is one to avoid. 

The final twenty-five minutes were a big test of new England’s character. Judging by the result it was a big triumph. Watching live it was distressing conceding the goals but that only served to make it all the more enjoyable when two further Englishmen got themselves on the score-sheet. Again we have to look to the manager’s tactical nous by bringing on Theo Walcott, a man derided in the previous blog, to turn the game around. Walcott managed to score an admittedly fluky goal with one of his first touches, sending it flying past Isaksson, deceiving the big keeper all ends up. England were level – cue joyous scenes all around the country and on the bench where the excitable Gary Neville was jumping for joy. I watched this game at home but I can imagine many a drop of beer flying around pubs everywhere. 

The excitement didn’t end there as England only went and won the bloody game! Unthinkable just fifteen minutes before but thanks to some great pace shown by Walcott and a remarkable piece of improvisation to back-heel the ball in the net by Welbeck and the turnaround, quite literally, was complete. The fighting spirit, the unity and determination shown by every England player was likened to Venables’ successful Euro ’96 squad; seen as the last decent England tournament. Let’s not go overboard of course because it was a narrow win against a team who’ve lost both games but the manner of the win and the tactical triumph for The Redeemer keeps the confidence growing and the belief rising. Football plays havoc with the emotions; England fans especially. We’re going through it all again on Tuesday against hosts Ukraine; this time we only need a draw. But lose and we’re out. Knockout football’s started early. Three games, three lions, three unbeaten? Again, I’m feeling confident. 

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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