England must seek adventure
15 Jun, Euro 2012 (Group D): Sweden v England (Kiev, 7.45 UK)
Checking current facts, I see that the threat from our national team against France, unsurprisingly, came from midfield and defenders rather than the front line – four out of five shots coming from a midfielder. Indeed, none of England’s strikers attempted a shot in the match. The fact that they also had fewer shots on target than any other team wouldn’t necessarily resonate without the added information that Joe Hart made more saves than any other keeper in round one.
All good practice towards establishing a solid base but, with the defence sorted into a recognised force, Roy Hodgson may feel the team can be a little more adventurous coming up against a Swedish side that proved leaky and gave away a lead against Ukraine. My guess is that if they can manage to isolate Zlatan Ibrahimovic – the best kid in the playground in this squad, – and pin him back to midfield duties, England will have the job half done. And if they are comfortable on 60 minutes, Roy may even have the luxury of resting Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker for the final half-hour.
The latest word from the Swedish camp suggests a team imploding, with Ibrahimovic moaning about his workload. With Andreas Granqvist and Markus Rosenberg underperforming, perhaps the time has come for Sweden to lose their “England’s bogey team” status.
For England, nothing short of a win will do. Depending on a result from a rampant Ukraine in the final group fixture is too frightening to contemplate, resurrecting too many memories of those so-near-so-far games redolent of the reigns of Steve McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Roy’s commitment to a more attacking display depends on improved link-up play from midfield and less dependence on overlapping players who struggle to deliver a decent cross – hands up J Milner! A more reasonable combination might see the ever-impressive Ashley Cole thrashing down the left to find the head of Andy Carroll, once Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck have put the game beyond reach, of course.
Hodgson’s reputation is one of cautious prudence and so far he has delivered. It’s time now to raise the game and prove that England are once again a team to be considered and feared. That I can be writing of attacking options with such belief is an endorsement of the avuncular Hodgson’s steadying of the England ship but it also represents how easy it is to fall back into that overreaching hype so loved by the ever-expectant English fan.
Despite this, I predict slash-and-burn tactics, with England 2-0 up at half time and rarely leaving their own half in the second.
Prediction: Sweden 0, England 2
Also in Group D: Ukraine v France (Donetsk, 5pm)
This is a tough one to call and may depend on whether Andriy Shevchenko rests on his laurels or goes all out for glory. Paired with the tireless Andriy Voronin, the two will make an interesting comparison against the experienced and skilful Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri. I expect the French to win in a tough, acrimonious match with the possibility of a red card.
Prediction: Ukraine 1, France 2