England must find a way to overcome stern Sweden test

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 06 July 2018, 15:57

SHIZOUKA sixteen years ago was where it all started to go wrong.

Ronaldinho’s artistically curving free kick cleverly deceived David Seaman in England’s goal and so the Three Lions were dumped out on their a***s.

Goalkeeper Seaman, never one to underplay his own talents and moustache, was spotted with swollen, red eyes in the mixed zone after the game and it was the end of England at Japan and South Korea in 2002.

That was a quarter final as it was in Germany four years later when England went out to Portugal. Form then on the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ embarked on a downward spiral.

There is a sense of optimism now of course but the whole ‘Football’s Coming Home’ phenomenon which is sweeping England’s sun-baked brown and pleasant lands is a hugely worrying sign.

In three of the last five World Cups England have reached the last eight. It is nothing out of the ordinary. Yet you wouldn’t know it from the euphoria gripping the streets and the hype in every office, pub, and hipster internet cafe up and down the country.

It is a sign that history is so easily erased in football. That a new audience is taking over. ‘Fans’ who may not have been that bothered by England back in the noughties but are now jumping on the bandwagon yet ensuring the English as a race succumb to the same old failures.

One sniff of the slightest bit of glory and we go bezerk. Kids are singing in the streets, sun stroked adults are pinning cross of St.George flags to their cars.

England towels and blankets are being hung out of upstairs windows in an endearing but premature act of football patriotism.

The time to start getting excited is if England beat Sweden on Saturday. And that is not going to be foregone conclusion many think.

Despite constant suggestions that the exits of Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Germany has cleared a path for England to get to the semis without breaking sweat the reality is naturally proving somewhat different.

Against Colombia England were dragged into the South American’s game. For a time they got embroiled in the classic gamesmanship, the dirty tricks, the wind ups.

They also failed to produce more than a couple of decent opportunities to score from open play.

From nine goals in Russia so far, just two have come from open play. And one of those was a massive deflection off the blessed ankle of captain Harry Kane.

Yet the England team of Gareth Southgate’s first major tournament as coach and a first major tournament for many of his players are already being hailed as winners-elect in some quarters.

I’m the last person to spoil a party but it’s time for everyone to take a cold shower. Most welcome in the current heatwave.

The last eight is a basic requirement for a nation such as England. And having seen Sweden demolish a nimble Mexico side through sheer brute force and organisation in the group stages, this is going to be a different but equally stern test.

The captain Andreas Granqvist is a human brick wall. The fact he is losing his hair only serves to make him look more like Grant Mitchell from Eastenders and add to his fearsome demeanour.

In Ludwig Augustinsson they have a full back on the cusp of his career - being scouted by Premier League Fulham and scorer of his first international goal in the 3-0 romp against the Central Americans.

The coach Janne Anderson loves nothing more than fighting with Germans as he proved on the touchline during his country’s shock 2-1 defeat. Yet still Sweden went on to win their group and Anderson was unrepentant about his pitchside ruck.

Sweden’s squad is made up of B-list journeymen playing it the hard way around Europe. They are minus Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man who former Arsenal midfielder Seb Larsson recently described as the ‘greatest Swede to ever lace up a pair of boots’.

But to them that is a huge plus. They are a squad of 23 now not a team of one. And that is the most dangerous aspect of it all.

England’s biggest worry is that the understandable but naive flag waving back home goes to their heads and brings it all crashing down and brings them home.


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