A mixed bag indeed, but at least the Sven-bashers haven’t got quite as much of a leg to stand on as they had previously. His hand was forced by the horrible first minute injury to Michael Owen. Well, I hope that the Owen-bashers are happy too. There’s a good chance that he’ll be out for the rest of the tournament. And! (I can only hope that this feels them with glee and delight) He suffered a tremendous amount of physical pain, as well! DOUBLE BONUS! The injury to Owen not only forced England to more or less throw their attacking plans out of the window, but also meant that theyessectively lost a substitution. Don’t tell me for a second that this didn’t make a difference in the closing minutes.
As it turned out, the first-half performance was, considering everything, outstanding. Rooney looked sharp, latching onto Beckham’s superb long pass and almost scoring. If a Brazilian had scored the goal that Cole did, we wouldn’t hear the end of it for the remainder of the tournament. I’ve already seen his goal described on another blog as a “fluke”. Make of that what you wish. It was an excellent team display, with Lampard and Rooney peppering the Swedish goal with long-range shots, but the pick of the crop was… hold your breath… Hargreaves. More under the spotlight than a defensive midfielder would normally be, he tackled, chased, hassled, and more or less single-handedly nullified any Swedish threat. Should he keep his place in the second round, he will have thoroughly deserved his place.
The second half started badly. First off, an outstanding header to level the scores – Allback spinning the ball across the face of the goal from a near-impossible angle. Then, the wheels started to fall off the wagon slightly. Robinson saved brilliantly from a second Allback header. Minutes later, Mellberg hit the bar, and shortly after that, Kallstrom had a short cleared off the line. It was a stunning spell of play from Sweden, but it all came from set-pieces. In the mean-time, Ferdinand went off with another thigh strain (are England doing something wrong in warming up?), and Rooney had tired to an extent that he had to be replaced by Gerrard, leaving Crouch on his own up front, flapping like a broken weather-vane.
Slowly though, in playing 4-5-1, England began to re-assert themselves, and with five minutes to go, Gerrard headed them back in front from a cross by Cole. This time, it looked like it would be enough, but that was reckoning without a last minute piece of slap-stick English defending, to allow Larsson to scuff home an equalizer. It was no less than they deserved, on the basis of their second-half performance.
Meanwhile, Paraguay were beating the hapless Trinidad by two goals to nil to render the draw unnecessary for Sweden. England are thrhough as group winners, with Sweden now facing an enormously difficult match against the hosts. As I said before, I don’t think that England have anything to fear from Ecuador. They were tidy against Poland and Costa Rica, but I’ve already stated before that I think that Poland and Costa Rica were amongst the worst teams that I’ve seen in the tournament. They may have played five reserves against Germany, but only a fool would play a team to deliberately lose a match in the World Cup finals, and they were really poor against a German team that could have scored seven or eight.
England need, I think, to work on that 4-5-1 formation ahead of their next game. They also need to practice defending their set-pieces, and put Rooney in for some fitness training. Other than that, I see no reason why they can’t make the last eight at least. I would also have liked to see Walcott, as I think that Crouch is starting to get found out at this level. The lack of attacking options is somewhat alarming, but, for one thing, it’s now too late to bring anybody else into the squad, and for another, England at least have the luxury of goalscoring midfielders such as Cole & Gerrard. If the goals keep coming from the likes of them, Owen may not be missed at all. Cheer up! It’s not all bad news!