Well that was nice and straightforward, wasn’t it? I’m not sure what I enjoyed the most – the haphazard punditry, the coming-from-behind-to-win thing that we did (which we don’t normally do) or the typically hypercritical fans ringing up Alan Green on Five Live’s phone-in to say the performance was a shambles but also insisting in the same breath that England can win the tournament.
This is an England team bereft of world class players and tournament experience. The fact that we came from behind to win the match should be celebrated. I’m willing to overlook the general weakness of the Swedish team in favour of patting our lads on the back and congratulating them on a hard-fought victory. It may be true to say that had we faced any other team in the tournament (other than the Republic of Ireland, obviously) we would have probably been well beaten. Probably. I guess we’ll never know.
It was a performance that hardly filled me with confidence but, with two games gone, England are in a favourable position to progress to the quarter finals. Had that situation been offered to the nation before Euro 2012 began, I think we all would have taken it.
Roy Hodgson’s decision to start with Andy Carroll up front was vindicated when he scored a magnificent header to put us 1-0 up. His substitution of James Milner for Theo Walcott in the second half was also mightily effective. I doubt he countered for Sweden scoring two soft goals from two set pieces, but once that happened this young England side actually showed some fight. It might not have been with any style or panache, but they ground out a victory in testing circumstances.
England now need to avoid defeat in their final group match against the joint hosts Ukraine to rubber stamp their place in the last eight, where they’ll probably meet Spain – and probably exit the tournament. I dunno – maybe. Stranger things have happened.
Fans phoned in after the match to declare their displeasure at the shambolic performance of England, who were lucky to scrape a win against a very average side. One caller even suggested he would have been happier if we tried to play like Spain and got battered. At the other extreme, you had callers insisting that England look ‘solid’ and could go all the way. I don’t think one England fan offered any balance to any of the words that were coming out of their mouths.
For me, it was just an entertaining game. Fans can worry all they like about the peripherals; in the end the game was won and we’ve put ourselves in a fantastic position to qualify from the group stage. We’re no world beaters, however I’ve seen much better England sides fail to beat poorer sides (see Algeria and USA, World Cup 2010, for recent examples).
I’m not confident that we’ll actually beat Ukraine on Tuesday, and in some ways it may prove to be a tougher test than the one we faced against Sweden. But I think the players will have taken confidence from this game to do what is required in Kiev next week to extend their stay in the competition.