Friday’s second game is also the second competitive match of the Roy Hodgson era, the relatively new England manager having been on the job for less than two months. In that time the man who has gone from Fulham to West Brom to Liverpool to England in two years has already enforced his will on the squad. Monday’s draw with France was an unmistakably Hodgsonian performance.
With the draw against the nation England regards as its toughest Group D competition, feelings of trepidation have morphed into hope. Notoriously rabid in their overestimation of the Three Lions’ chances, the English press and public had muted expectations for Euro 2012. They had certainly justified losing to France, their group favorites. When England didn’t, Three Lions supporters allowed optimism to start creeping in.
Sweden’s traveling the opposite course. With recent wins at the Netherlands and Croatia, Erik Hamrén’s new look national team teased something more than mere qualification. With the team drawn into an evenly matched group, Sweden were seen as a potential surprise – a team that could do some damage.
That optimism faded on Monday, with Sweden giving up a lead to co-hosts Ukraine, losing what was supposed to be their easiest match. Now, old questions are popping up around captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Despite his scoring a goal and twice setting up teammates for potential equalizers, he was seen as having failed. He did not carry his team past Ukraine.
On Friday, Ibrahimovic gets another chance to redeem himself as well as assuage those resurfacing doubts, with England-Sweden set to kick off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.
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Side 2: England vs. Sweden
5. (Don’t Know How To) Come After You
After the result, the big story coming out of England’s opener was a their reluctance to attack. When you think about Roy Hodgson, it makes sense. His first things first attitude would have his team build from the back. Take care of your own end first. Once that’s done, they can start building an attack.
Monday made it clear the defense is in place. Now, how does England move forward?
A rumored move has big striker Andy Carroll coming into the team for Friday’s game, though that seems to a single game solution. Sweden gave up two goals through the air to Andriy Shevchenko. Carroll is a much greater threat with his head than the Ukrainian icon. He’ll likely pair up top with Danny Welbeck, the United speed merchant stretching the defense for his number nine.
6. Old limbs at our core
Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were dead tired, but with few options on the bench, Hodgson may have no choice but ask his aged 31 and 32-year-old to push through the fatigue. Given the extent to which the duo was run down by France, three days rest may not be enough.
One option is to move James Milner into the middle. Milner’s fitness is beyond reproach, and with Ashley Young not needed up top (if Carroll and Welbeck start), there’s an extra winger available. If Young and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain start wide, Milner can play in the middle. If Hodgson gets two 45-minute shifts from first choice midfielders, England might not miss a beat.
7. Man of the hour
The idea that Sweden will live and die with Zlatan Ibrahimovic played out on Monday, to a certain extent. The Milan star scored Sweden’s opener but watched his defense quickly give up two. While Ibrahimovic had his moments trying to craft a goal for others, Sweden could be said to have lost because Zlatan couldn’t find a way. It’s a high standard – an unfair standard – but it may also be reality.
It’s important for Ibrahimovic to tune out those expectations. Carrying them on his shoulders in the past, Zlatan was left frustrated and, the times he struggled, even more criticized. Often showing his frustration on the field, a downturn in Ibrahimovic’s attitude radiates throughout the team.
If he stays focused and under control, Ibrahimovic will dictate this game just as he dictates most games. He doesn’t need to force it.
8. Who else?
There’s going to be a huge temptation for Zlatan to do it himself, mostly because he has no help. Johan Elmander is coming back from a toe injury, but as he showed on Monday, he’s not quite ready. Aside from midfielder Kim Kallstrom, nobody else in the team has a significant international goal scoring history, and Kallstrom’s is more a function of longevity than proclivity.
Erik Hamrén needs to find somebody who can augment Zlatan’s contributions. Maybe that’s PSV star Ola Toivonen. Maybe that’s a healthy Elmander. As we saw during the Lars Lagerbeck era, there’s only so far Sweden can go hoping Ibrahimovic does it all.
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