By Ben Dixon
Well well well, what a night of football. Emotional rollercoaster springs to mind, an overused term but in this case, fully justified. Roy obviously didn’t read my last article, or if he did, didn’t take much notice. He had one moment of tactical brilliance and one tactical nightmare. His brilliance was starting Andy Carroll, often the scapegoat of English football. It was a game made for him due to Sweden’s defensive frailties and his threat from the air and he took his opportunities with both hands. His header was that of the highest quality from one of the best crosses you will see in this competition. A thumping header which gave England a deserved lead. However Roy also got something wrong. Starting James Milner on the right wing instead of Theo Walcott. Milner had another very average game which was rounded off by a silly booking and being substituted. This brought Theo Walcott on just as England had fallen behind to a very cheap goal. This was the game changer in my, and many others’ mind as it brought pace and confidence to the side when we needed it most.
England’s start to the second half was about as disastrous as it was possible to get. 2 goals shipped inside the first 10 minutes when Hodgson’s halftime team talk was undoubtedly to keep it tight at the back.What made it worse was that both the goals were caused, not by individual brilliance, but by defensive errors. Players not picking up their men, lack of communication and bad decision making. Of course there was also a huge slice of luck for the Swede’s first goal. Their second however was just terrible marking. This left England staring at a defeat which would surely end their hopes of qualifying for the quarter finals and extend their awful record against the Swede’s in competitive fixtures.
Cue Theo Walcott. As soon as he came on in place of Milner England were fighting back and JT forced a top save out of Isaksonn. It was at this stage many thought it wasn’t going to be our night and that it would be another tournament heartache for us English. However, less than 30 seconds later we were level thanks to a brilliant strike from our man Theo. Whether it was deflected or the goalie just had a mare can be debated another time but no-one cared. We were level and in the ascendancy. It was only right for Walcott to be involved in the move that eventually won us the game, his pace was frightening the defence and causing major problems. But the part he played in the goal was overshadowed by a brilliant bit of improvisation from Danny Welbeck. Flicking the ball towards goal with the back of his foot with his back to goal was simply brilliant finish and fully deserved to win any match.
So it looks like England and France will qualify but the crucial part is who will finish where. With Spain seemingly heading for top spot in group C it is more important than ever to finish top of ours and face a much more attractive prospect in Italy. A team we could beat on a good day. Spain looked in imperious form against the Irish and with Fernando Torres now back amongst the goals they are definitely the team to avoid.
So what should England’s tactics be against Ukraine. Well I think it’s pretty obvious that Walcott has to come in for Milner on the right wing after his game changing performance tonight. The main question is what to do up front. Carroll and Welbeck both had excellent games tonight but a certain Wayne Rooney is back from suspension on Tuesday. Personally I would rest Welbeck and play Carroll and Rooney up front together to give Rooney the chance to get some match practice in before the probable quarter final. Also Ashley Young hasn’t impressed me this tournament so if I was Roy Hodgson I would start Oxlaide Chamberlain on the left and give him a chance to show off his power and pace.
So, lots for Roy Hodgson to ponder for Tuesday. Tonight gave him the first proper experience of being an England manager with the nerves, tension and expectation that come with it. He passed this test. Just. But Tuesday will test him again knowing England have to better France’s result by 2 goals to claim top spot and avoid the Spaniards. Will he play ultra-attacking to try and nick top spot or play for a point to guarantee a quarter final place?. Who knows? But one thing we know all too well, is that England never do it the easy way. Expect fireworks in Donetsk on Tuesday. Fireworks and a whole lot of tension.