At the moment it is Roy Hodgson’s side who hold all the cards as the realities of potential exit after two games befall the Scandinavians, but one result could change all of that. And the match-up in Kiev will be a fascinating clash of circumstances.
Whereas England came into the tournament with a complete lack of expectation not experienced in recent times, there was talk in Sweden that Erik Hamren’s men could go far, thanks mainly to having a squad noted for their togetherness and camaraderie, values many have stressed as important for potential outsiders. One game in, that has all changed.
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Hodgson, however, has a confident troop, boosted by their performance in the 1-1 draw with France on Monday in Donetsk. Captain Steven Gerrard even went as far as to say that a similar level performance would bring three points tonight. "They're a good side, but they're not France," stated the Liverpool midfielder.
Having not beaten Sweden competitively in 43 years, had such a turbulent preparation following Fabio Capello’s resignation, known Wayne Rooney would miss their opening two games, and suffered as many injuries as they have, it is perhaps surprising that England go into the game as favourites.
They were not against France, and that seemed to suit their style under Hodgson. Obdurate, committed, opportunistic, functional; England’s performance was perfect for foiling a superior side. But tonight there may need to be a change in emphasis. Sweden have a point to prove, and an urgency that the Three Lions have not proven they have themselves so far during Hodgson’s reign.
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In tactics, technique, morale and philosophy, this will be a clash of styles. But the aim is the same. Defeat for Sweden and they’re packing their bags. A loss for England and they may as well start doing the same. The Swedes are as beatable now as they ever have been during these barren 43 years, and if England don’t win tonight then one would start to wonder if they will ever beat them again.
Moreover, it would be a huge dent to the confidence ahead of the clash against Ukraine, opening wounds that have so far remained out of sight to the rest of Europe. If they are to ride this new wave of confidence,they need to not fall down at the second hurdle.
This one is win or die, alright. But for England almost as much as Sweden.