England’s thirty-eight year drought against Sweden continued last night at the RheinEnergieStadion. Twice they took the lead but an increasingly shaky defence couldn’t prevent Lars Lagerback’s side from equalising. Sven-Goran Eriksson decided to rest Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch, both of whom were one yellow card away from missing the first knock-out game. Frank Lampard, another of England’s players one booking from a suspension, was partnered in central midfield by Owen Hargreaves, a favourite of Eriksson’s but much maligned by England fans. Wayne Rooney started his first game since breaking his foot at Stamford Bridge on 29th April.
The game got off to an ominous start for England. No more than a minute had passed before Michael Owen was seen to collapse to the ground after making a short pass to Ashley Cole. Replays showed that the Newcastle striker’s knee had given way and twisted under him, but the anguished look on his face revealed more. The 26-year-old will be ruled out of the World Cup later today when scans are expected to reveal serious knee ligament damage. Eriksson’s decision to include the likes of Jermaine Jenas in his squad in place of a fifth striker has come back to haunt him. Crouch was brought on to partner Rooney up front.
It took England thirty-four minutes to break the deadlock when a superb strike from Joe Cole beat Sweden’s goalkeeper from all of thirty-five yards. Cole chested down a Niclas Alexandersson clearance, and sent a volley off the outside of his right foot that went high towards the far corner of the net. Andreas Isaksson managed to get fingertips to the ball but could not prevent it from hitting the inside of the post and going in. It was no more than the eventual man of the match, and probably England’s best player of the tournament so far, deserved. Cole went on to provide a great cross for Steven Gerrard, who was brought on to replace a flagging Rooney after sixty-nine minutes, to head England into the lead with five minutes to go after Sweden’s Marcus Allback had negated Cole’s wonder goal from a poorly defended Tobias Linderoth corner, but more inept defending from a throw-in allowed Henrik Larsson to equalise in the ninetieth minute.
Lampard looked slightly more effectual than he did in the first two games against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. No doubt the inclusion of Hargreaves in the holding midfield role liberated the Chelsea man, but again his shooting let him down. Hargreaves went some way to appeasing the England fans (myself included) who have questioned his continued presence in Eriksson’s squads.
The 2-2 draw was enough for England to seal top spot in Group B at the expense of Sweden. England will play Equador on Sunday after Germany swept passed Luis Suarez’s side 3-0 to win Group A. Miroslav Klose scored twice to take his tally at this World Cup to four, and Michael Ballack was named man of the match against what was effectively Equador’s reserve team. Sweden will face Germany on Saturday.
The final round of group games continue later today when Holland play Argentina and Portugal play Mexico to decide who finishes top of Groups C and D respectively. Ricardo Carvalho’s Portugal kick-off at 3pm BST knowing that a draw will be enough to win their group; they have already qualified for the knock-out stages for the first time since 1966. With Mexico also needing a draw to guarantee progress, Holland and the in-form Arjen Robben will probably require all three points tonight if they are to avoid a clash with Portugal. Argentina only need a draw to secure first place in Group C, but Hernan Crespo wants his side to keep up the form they showed during the 6-0 thrashing of Serbia and Montenegro.
Elsewhere in Group C, Didier Drogba will miss the Ivory Coast’s final game against a demoralised Serbia and Montenegro after picking up two yellow cards. Both teams are already out of the tournament. Serbia and Montenegro, playing their final game before the countries split politically, are without ex-Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman, who is banned after being sent off during the game with Argentina. His fellow players have been threatened with fines if they fail to take today’s game seriously.