Huffpost UK Sport
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Uche Amako Headshot

Walcott Inspires England to Victory Against Sweden in Euro 2012

Posted: Updated:

A stunning goal from Danny Welbeck gives England a crucial 3-2 win against Sweden and puts them in good position to qualify for the knockout stages from Group D.

England manager Roy Hodgson made one change from the team that drew with France on Monday. Liverpool striker Andy Carroll replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and joined Danny Welbeck up front, pushing Ashley Young out on the left side of midfield.

Following England's struggles in possession against France, it was important that they held on to the ball better against the Swedes and they made a confident start.

Starting with Carroll gave England the option of being more direct and they looked to hit the big man early with clipped balls out of defence. Carroll held the ball up well in the early stages and drew a few fouls from the Swedish defenders but the support from the midfield was slow and ponderous.

The opening goal of the match totally justified Hodgson's decision to select Carroll as he headed home a fabulous cross from captain Steven Gerrard. Gerrard whipped the ball in from deep with pace and accuracy and Carroll made no mistake with the finish.

The cross and header were the two moments of genuine quality in a first half that England controlled without looking completely comfortable.

Going into the second half, England would have wanted a repeat of their first half performance but they came out sloppily. They didn't keep the ball well, losing it in dangerous positions and thus inviting pressure from Sweden. And from a long ball that Ashley Cole should have dealt with comfortably 30 seconds earlier, Sweden equalised.

Carroll tracked back well to help his defence but ended up conceding a needless free kick which Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck into the wall; but his follow up shot, the deflected into the path of former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg and even though his shot was saved by keeper Joe Hart, the ball hit Glen Johnson and he bundled the ball over the line despite his best efforts to keep it out.

England had given away a lead again and it was what they deserved for their slow start in the second half. And it got worse. England went 2-1 down to a free header from Mellberg following a deep free kick from Sebastian Larsson.

England should have known about Larsson's expertise from set pieces, but they dropped far too deep beyond the penalty spot leaving Mellberg completely unmarked with the simplest of tasks to head past Hart.

It was a shocking 15 minutes from England and they needed to make a change to get back on the front foot. Accordingly, Hodgson brought on Theo Walcott for James Milner who had been ineffective in the England attack and lazy in defence, which was what had got him the nod over Walcott in Hodgson's short time as manager.

England required a quick response and they got one. John Terry had a header turned over for a corner by Andreas Isaksson and from the resulting corner, the ball was headed out to Walcott who was standing just outside the box. Walcott took a touch, settled him himself and curled a shot that took a slight deflection off a Swedish defender which was enough to deceive Isaksson and sail past him.

The game became scrappy with both teams going for the win. England made the breakthrough with a goal that was of simplicity and beauty. Starting from the back, England passed their way out of defence for one of the few times in the match. Gerrard passed the ball out wide to Johnson who helped it on towards Walcott who ran straight at the Sweden defence. Walcott got to the byline and cut the ball back to Welbeck who, with his back to goal, swivelled and flicked the ball with the back of his right foot past Isaksson.

This was Walcott's most significant impact in an England shirt since his thrilling hat-trick against Croatia in 2008 and it long overdue. He stretched the Swedish defence with his pace, energy and determination to prove critics of his ability wrong.

One of the main criticisms of Walcott is that he is too instinctive and doesn't think enough. But for his role in Welbeck's winner, he demanded the ball off Johnson, recognised that he could run and exploit a tiring Sweden defence, beat his man and got his head up to spot his only option in the penalty area. He found Welbeck with an inch perfect cross which was expertly finished off.

Walcott's performance could be a renaissance in his England career but can he have the same impact when playing from the start or is he still better as an impact substitution?

Attention now turns to England's next game against Ukraine which is a winner takes all match. England can qualify with just a draw but if they want to avoid the most likely opponents in the quarter final, Spain, a victory by a few goals is what is needed.

Despite the win, England still have a lot of work to do because they are way off the kind of performance which is required to beat the likes of Spain and Germany. But with Wayne Rooney back from suspension, England's chances have significantly improved.