England v Sweden - review
As has been the case with the previous two games, England had done that which was expected - they have qualified for the 2nd round. The next expectation is they should beat Ecuador but again we have pundits and presenters who will say Ecuador can be beaten and so we should bear in mind the quarter-finals. Terry Venables said not to underestimate the Ecuadorians, and quite rightly too. Ecuador rested five players for the match with Germany and it made a difference as Ecuador forgot to defend in numbers and man-mark but that's immaterial.
The Ecuador of yesterday won't be the same come Sunday 4pm in Stuttgart. Captain Ivan Hurtado, defender Neicer Reasco, midfielder Segundo Castillo, and forwards Augustin Delgado and Carlos Tenorio will return. I said we will be tested by Sweden, we were and we should analyse ourselves and Ecuador for we were exposed. Set-pieces enormously but it was a big contrast of the two halves that featured significantly. England had a neat structure, Steven Gerrard on the bench allowed Owen Hargreaves to hold back, Frank Lampard going forward. The passing was neat, chances were being created well, they only lacked that 'killing instinct', that execution, putting the ball on target, but nonetheless we were the better in the first 45mins.
Michael Owen has had a personal turmoil of a World Cup performance. He has not been as sharp as before, he has been in good positions but could not make the most of them, and yesterday he suffered a tweak of the right knee that looked very serious. I fear a torn ligament. He was passed to on the right and went to pass onto another, and having done so his left foot did not move accordingly to help his balance therefore he was overstretched with his right foot and caused an awkward stance. Immediately Owen went into a freefall to cushion the tweak and not have so much weight on his right knee, and then rolled onto his knees afterwards to crawl over the touchline for immediate treatment. Under some discomfort, Owen was assessed and taken away on a stretcher, replaced by Peter Crouch.
We have four days until the Ecuador match and if we win that, the quarter-finals is July 1st, ten days from now. I hope Owen's reaction was just cautionary, that it is a twisted knee and develops slight swelling that will go down within 3-4 days, therefore Owen would be out of Sunday's game but he would have 6 days training to be fit hopefully for the quarter-finals. I sincerely hope.
Seeing a major player go down like that would have affected the players so for awhile our play was one during shock but it was not for long. Joe Cole and Frank Lampard laid assault on the Swedish goal, Wayne Rooney was busy getting himself about, David Beckham delivered superb crosses. Sweden almost gained the advantage from a corner with Teddy Lucic creeping behind the play unmarked and his shot was blocked by Lampard. We should have heeded that moment. On 34mins, a Beckham cross was headed back by Crouch but out and away by Niclas Alexandersson, Joe Cole picked it up some 35 yards out with chest control and then volleyed across the ball to send it high and spinning towards goal, looking ambitious. But the ball took its dip and although keeper Andreas Isaksson got a hand to it, it was too late to stop England taking the lead. It was a superb effort and big contender for Goal Of The Tournament.
As the first half ended, I was expecting more of the same from England, for we could only go further and increase the lead, keeping Sweden pegged back, reducing their chances to virtually two through Lucic and a great tackle by Rio Ferdinand to stop Freddie Ljungberg in the box, Ljungberg still playing his theatrical 'that's a penalty!' stumbles. Yet six minutes into the second half spelt for an uncomfortable 45mins. Sweden came back at England, which should not have been allowed, with Ljungberg down their left causing problems to Jamie Carragher, cutting inside and shooting for John Terry to head away for a corner. Tobias Linderoth delivered and Marcus Allback jumped unimpeded at near post and glanced a header over all, including Ashley Cole on the far post for the equaliser, the 2000th goal in World Cup history. Beckham was the nearest but Allback had moved at the last moment in front of him. Panic had settled in.
Sweden began to up their tempo and England had gone down in theirs. The Swedes sensed we were not alert and poured forward, gaining again another corner. Beckham took the position behind Henrik Larsson with Carragher behind Beckham but as the corner swung over, Carragher bumped slightly into Beckham as Larsson glanced his header that came off Carragher's arm on it's way to Paul Robinson, who instinctively parried it away from goal. Would have been harsh to give a penalty when the ball was moving too fast to register. Ferdinand went off for Sol Campbell, probably due to a little twinge that should be OK come Sunday, but defensively there was no improvement. Another corner, this time it went far post, Lucic headed it back and captain Olof Mellberg of Aston Villa hit a half volley off the cross bar. We were leading a charmed life.
We were being exposed from the type of corners the EPL endure countless of times yet we found it very difficult to defend them. Gerrard came on for Rooney on 69mins, much to Rooney's frustration on the bench, chucking down boots and ripping off tie-ups, mostly, if not solely, due to not having more of an influence on the game when we needed it. The defensive frailties continued. A long ball from defence went over all to Larsson and he was onside, to be denied by a timed intervention. The resulting corner came across and was headed out, yet Kim Kallstrom struck a low shot that went past all with Robinson beaten, but for Gerrard's positioning on the post that allowed him to kick the ball out.
After eventually riding the storm, we began to hold possession, thus cutting Sweden's attacking impetus and we gained from it. Beginning to thread passes to control the play, Crouch collected to return to Joe Cole, Cole moved towards the right looking to release someone, the eyes on the play allowed Gerrard to jog behind the defence. Cole looks up and then chips a sweet ball over to Gerrard and the Liverpool captain headed over Isaksson for the lead. That was 86mins and I still did not feel comfortable about it, I know Sweden never give up and if we were to sit back and ride the storm again, we could be found susceptible. We had defended leads before, recently the 1-0 against Argentina in 2002, but this was different. The Swedes were determined with Paraguay. I was right.
Under attack, Carragher headed out for a throw. Erik Edman went to take it and the moment he did, you could see Beckham on the edge of the box focusing on Edman. Carragher and Lampard were to the right of Beckham, almost by the near post. Campbell and Terry were marking, Hargreaves by the penalty spot, Ashley Cole near far post. As the ball came high and into the box, Lampard remained stationary, not marking, Carragher was catching a breather with hands on knees. The ball was challenged by Kallstrom and Terry with Terry looking the winner but he missed. The ball then bounced over Campbell, who turned to aim a foot at it and missed and at that point Mellberg and Larsson came to make contact, the ball directed off Larsson's studs, away from Robinson's dive. Cole moved to defend on the line but was positioned acutely behind Robinson, the ball bouncing past him to the inside of the far netting.
For the first time since May 1968 we were close to beating Sweden. Yet again we have thrown it away, literally. The onus is fine as we won the group, avoiding Germany who seem in good conquering form but I do not fear the Germans. If we are to be world beaters we face up to whoever we meet, otherwise there is little point in playing. You cannot make claims if you fear stepping up and proving them. We are good, good enough, but twice now we have had second halves in negative contrast to our first. Once the job is done, it is fine but the job is not done during the second 45mins, one cannot foresee England prospering until the final whistle. The point is we keep the opposition busy thus preventing them possession and time to create, we put the fear into them. If we don't get a grip on the play and dispossess quickly, we continue to run the risk of being caught out while back-pedalling.
We need the 'killer instinct', more accuracy on goal. Practice it, think it, do it, but we need it. The chances we create, we should be ahead by three goals before the opposition can know it. We have to try harder, making the effort to be in position is not enough, focus on keeping the ball accurate is key. We cannot afford to squander chances. If we are accustomed to sitting back then we should do so as a backdrop when we are ahead by two or three goals, IF need be. Sven-Goran Eriksson now should play the 4-4-2, Gerrard and Lampard deciding between themselves to does what. They both should interchange, and for me Gerrard is key when England break forward, more so than Lampard. Joe Cole is on great form, Beckham is standard despite not being so good in last night's second half. Rooney was frustrated and can take it out on the Ecuadorians.
I don't think Ecuador can expose us at set-pieces, more so from quick movements into the box like throw-ins as they did against Poland and Costa Rica. We keep them out and break them up on the counter, we can hit them quick. Keeping Crouch deep upfront means Rooney will drop off, therefore high balls for Crouch to nod on will not work. Crouch will need to hold up and pass quickly and then move into the box for a cross. Ecuador will look for us to use Crouch at all times, therefore a contingency should be our movement off the ball, making good use of our set-pieces, our height and heading ability, and our shooting as Cristian Mora is not that good a keeper while we have in Gerrard, Beckham, Joe Cole and Lampard four good shooters.