After the huge disappointment of losing their opening game to Ukraine on Monday night, Erik Hamren was determined his Sweden side would improve their performance against England in their second group game in the hope they would avoid elimination from the tournament that was still in its relative infancy. Following the dismal result against the co-hosts in the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv Hamren called his team’s performance cowardly and in reality there are few better adjectives that could be used to describe Sweden’s display with conservative football and hesitant defending along with the high technical ability of the Ukrainian midfield, proving to be the major cause of Sweden’s poor performance. Gone was the fluidity of football seen by Hamren’s side in qualifying and in their pre tournament warm up matches and it was replaced in an almost subconscious manner by the Lars Lagerback conservative system that had been in effect for over a decade and seemingly become engrained in the Swedish mindset when it comes to approaching tournament football. This may well have been because of the changes Hamren had to make to his starting line up with Johan Elmander not being passed fit to start and was replaced by Markus Rosenberg who last scored an international goal in September 2007, the decision to leave out Anders Svensson also is a puzzling one with Rasmus Elm being placed in the second anchoring midfield role of the 4-2-3-1 system and this certainly reduced the attacking flair of the Swedes with Elm being too deep to orchestrate any attacks that would cause the makeshift Ukrainian defence any considerable problems. Whilst you can point to this as potential reasons for the poor Swedish display it is a simple matter of fact that too many players in the team did not play well in particular Andreas Granqvist and Martin Olsson proving to be liabilities at the back with the latter showing an unwillingness to use his pace in an attacking sense which had been so evident in qualifying.
Erik Hamren did acknowledge the need for change ahead of the fixture against an England side buoyed by their impressive performance against a technically superior French side and recalled Anders Svensson into the starting line up playing in the anchoring midfield pairing alongside Kim Kallstrom who was one of the few players to impress on Monday night, this allowed Hamren to push Rasmus Elm further up the pitch and allow him to slot into the attacking midfield trio which for the England would contain Seb Larsson and the talismanic presence of Swedish captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the expense of PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen who had failed to stamp his authority on the game against Ukraine. Hamren also deemed Johan Elmander fit enough to start with the Galatasaray hit man returning to the lone striker role which he made his own in the Swedish qualifying campaign, there was also no place for Mikael Lustig in the starting line up with the less than impressive Andreas Granqvist being moved to right back and West Brom’s Jonas Olsson a player whom Roy Hodgson would know very well would partner Olof Mellberg in the centre of the Swedish defence. Erik Hamren was in the hope that these changes would return Sweden to a composed state of mind with the system and personnel that contributed so significantly to qualifying to the tournament, being back in place and hopefully this would allow the 4-2-3-1 system to illustrate the fluid attacking football that had been present throughout Sweden’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and seen them reach this stage of the tournament itself.
England just like Sweden made changes to the side that gained a credible draw against France with the youthful exuberance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being withdrawn to the bench with Andy Carroll starting alongside Danny Welbeck up front for England, this move saw Ashley return to the left hand side which he operates on domestically for Manchester United. Roy Hodgson made the decision to start Andy Carroll based on the evidence from Monday night that the Swedish defence could not prevail victorious in the aerial battle, initially I was critical of this decision as I felt that Andy Carroll did not have the intelligent quick movement possessed by Andriy Shevchenko that allowed the Ukrainian captain to score a brace of headers against the Swedes however I was to be proved wrong when Andy Carroll opened the scoring in the first half.
After a period of controlled possession by England at the start of the first half the first real chance of the game fell to Scott Parker after a neat interchange of passing between him and Danny Welbeck allowed the Spurs midfield to fire a volley from 25 yards only to see Andreas Isaksson make a tremendous save diving to his right hand side. Early signs suggested that Olof Mellberg was indeed struggling to cope with the physicality of Andy Carroll’s play with the Liverpool midfielder being brought down rather unceremoniously by the Olympiakos centre half after just twelve minutes. Whilst England were dominating possession for much of the opening stages of the match Erik Hamren could be encouraged by the fact his Sweden side had not resorted to the conservative methods of long passing and unadventurous play, they were keeping the ball well playing quick short passes trying to get the ball to the attacking midfield trio in order to create chances, this was such a contrast to the style of play portrayed by Sweden against Ukraine with the Swedes seemingly having more control over their own performance against England. The breakthrough as I previously mentioned came through Andy Carroll in the twenty third minute when a superb Steven Gerrard cross found his Liverpool compatriot unmarked in the box before the former Newcastle man powered in a header of the highest calibre past Andreas Isaksson. Whilst this was indeed a fantastic header the Swedish defence once again did not cover themselves in glory with the lack of communication between Andreas Granqvist and Olof Mellberg allowing Carroll to become unmarked inside the Swedish penalty area, it is this naivety in defending that has undoubtedly contributed to Sweden’s early exit from the tournament particularly in the opening fixture against Ukraine. After appearing to be in the ascendency before the England goal Sweden now found themselves once again on the back foot with Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggling to be as effective as his reputation suggests he should have been with the enigmatic Milan forward appearing to put little effort into his passing and movement. However in typical Ibrahimovic fashion he was back in the thick of the action without anybody even realising it when a lovely passing move between Ibrahimovic and Mellberg released Ibrahimovic who waltzed past Scott Parker with relative ease before taking a strike at Joe Hart’s goal only to see his strike deflected into the Manchester City goalkeeper’s hands, Ibrahimovic was then in action once again just a minute later when he beat John Terry for both pace and strength but nothing came of the move for Sweden. Ashley Young then wasted a super chance for England when Andreas Granqvist’s abysmal defensive position allowed Ashley Cole to find the Manchester United winger with a clever pass only for Young’s first touch to let him down before hooking his shot well wide of Isaksson’s right hand post. The half ended with Sweden once again controlling possession with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kim Kallstrom linking well in the England penalty area only for the Lyon midfielder’s backheel to find nobody before England cleared the danger.
Erik Hamren would have been positive in his half time team talk after seeing his Sweden side in comparison to Monday evening actually play reasonably well and just three minutes into the second half Sweden were rewarded with a goal that can only be described as fortuitous. A poor Zlatan Ibrahimovic free kick straight at the England wall fell back to the feet of Ibrahimovic who tried to replicate the Di Canio Scissor volley of all those years ago, which again hit an England player before falling to the unmarked Olof Mellberg who side footed the ball home via Joe Hart’s arm with Glen Johnson unable to stop the ball on the line. This Swedish goal drained England of any confidence and it was now then appearing unable to keep possession with Sweden calm and composed on the ball passing between each other in a very professional manner causing England defensive panic. This defensive panic manifested itself in the form of unnecessary fouls giving the Swedes set piece opportunities and this proved to be disastrous for England when just after the hour Sweden went ahead when a superb forty yard Seb Larsson free kick found Olof Mellberg unmarked at the back post and the experienced central defender headed past Joe Hart to give Sweden a fighting chance of staying in the tournament with John Terry’s defending being once again called into question. England however reacted positively to going a goal behind with Sweden clearly unsure as to whether to shut up shop completely or continue in the positive manner that had seen them take the lead however they were given little time to make this decision when super cross from Glen Johnson found the marauding run of John Terry who headed from close range forcing Andreas Isaksson to produce one of the saves of the tournament so far. England however would have to wait little more than thirty seconds after that before they drew level, a England corner headed away by Jonas Olsson saw substitute Theo Walcott pick up on the loose ball before trying a shot from twenty five yards out, the shot caught Andreas Isaksson out with the Swedish goalkeeper being unable to stop Walcott’s shot from hitting the back of the net. Martin Olsson displayed what he can do going forward in the seventy fifth minute beating Glen Johnson and Joleon Lescott before cutting the ball back to Kim Kallstrom who fired disappointingly over the cross bar, this was the first real evidence of Martin Olsson’s attacking prowess which had promised so much before the tournament, it is this that is one of the greater disappointments of Sweden’s Euro 2012 campaign. Ibrahimovic out of nothing produced a world class save from Joe Hart with ten minutes to go highlighting the danger of the Swedish captain despite him being out of the game for the previous twenty minutes of play. All of Sweden’s positivity throughout the game was rendered unimportant in the seventy eighth minute when England regained their lead through Danny Welbeck, super sub Theo Walcott broke through both Jonas and Martin Olsson with his sheer pace before crossing the ball low and across goal to Danny Welbeck who inventively put the ball into the back of the net with what can only be described as a scoop backheel. Sweden as the match itself and their Euro 2012 dreams drew ever closer to an end resorted to type playing long passes in the hope a ball would drop for Ibrahimovic but alas it did not and when Damir Skomina’s final whistle blew Sweden’s dreams of reaching the knockout stages had been prematurely ended.
If one thing can be taken from Sweden’s disappointing Euro 2012 campaign it is the significant importance of not losing your first match, Sweden were caught cold against Ukraine and their performance reflected this, admittedly injuries did play a part in their change in selection from the team that was so successful in qualifying however if they had played in the way Erik Hamren had wanted them too then they may well have beaten Ukraine. The Swedish performance against England yesterday evening in Kyiv would under normal circumstances have given Erik Hamren a huge feeling of encouragement with them playing at times some fantastic fluid football as he wanted them to and ultimately they came just short against a superior team in terms of individual talents, it was a much improved performance than the one seen against Ukraine and it is the big disappointment that had Hamren’s Sweden side played the way they did against England against Ukraine then they too would be heading into the final match day with high hopes of qualification for the knockout stage, alas it was not to be and the Swedish Football Association must look at this tournament as a learning curve in the hope that Sweden will be more used to Erik Hamren’s philosophy and able to adapt it confidently to tournament football ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.