England 3 Sweden 2 - France 2 Croatia 0
...and then there are the good nights...
In a storming game in Kiev, England took the lead, lost it, drew level and eventually ran out winners in an absorbing contest that shredded nerves but, ultimately, brought a warm glow of satisfaction. Not in a 'we're going all the way now' type way but just a feeling that some of England's younger players have what it takes, particularly up-front and in wide positions where Welbeck, Carroll and, later, Walcott showed maturity, skill and a fair turn of pace too.
It's just a shame that returning home after every England game, it's so difficult to stop yourself listening to the inane prattling taking place on the radio phone-in shows where opinions veer from the wildly optimistic to the tediously negative with seemingly no appreciation of things starting from small places. For this was an encouraging performance, not without fault - for once England's solid defence looked anything but - but in belief and determination being allied to a little bit of skill.
Bearing in mind that we seldom beat Sweden at all and most games with the men in yellow and blue are often dull, this game came as something of a surprise. After an initial bit of Swedish possession and English probing, the first real chance fell to Scott Parker who lashed a shot from just outside the area which was tipped away by goal-keeper Isaksson.
Larsson shot from distance soon after but Hart was untroubled, gathering the ball to him as it landed on his chest. Most of Sweden's attacks seemed to be coming through Ibramhimovich but much of the threat fizzled out when it reached England's penalty area. At the other end however, Milner saw a solid cross glance off Welbeck in a good position before England went ahead in some style after 23 minutes.
A superb ball from Gerrard from just inside his own half was met by Andy Carroll who tensed his neck muscles and sent a glorious header into the Swedish net. Wild scenes erupted in 'Pat Malloy's' in Colchester (what's happened to the 'Wig & Pen' now renamed 'The Princess'? Is nothing sacred?) and England looked good for the lead. Everything I suggested might happen with Carroll (see my pre-tournament review) was now looking a good call as the Liverpool man started to harass the Swedish defence with his strong running and aerial ability. At the other end Hart gathered another Ibramhimovich shot that took a deflection as two players threw themselves in front of his shot but, as happened with France earlier this week, there was a feeling that England's defence wasn't going to easily beaten. How wrong that turned out to be...
Young wasted a good chance when an excellent Cole pass saw the Manchester United man race clear of the defence, his shot turned away at the near post when there were better options. Kallstrom then shot narrowly over before Hart had to come smartly off his line to gather a through ball as Elmander got close, repeating the action on the stroke of half-time at the feet of Svensson.
Within four minutes of the restart though, Sweden were level. There were probably many reasons for the defensive mess that opened up in front of Hart but I blamed myself, having moved from 'Pat Malloy's' where an Oasis tribute band had struck up, to 'Yates' Wine Lodge' (has there even been a bigger misnomer than 'Wine Lodge'?) for a better view and atmosphere. Carroll was booked for catching the heels of Svensson, and from the free-kick Imrahimovitch's shot cannoned off the wall but fell back to him to try and scissor-kick goalwards. The ball somehow found the feet of Mellberg whose shot was palmed by Hart onto Johnson, the defender getting back to stop the ball on the line only to see it ricochet off the post onto the player and into the net. Mellberg claimed the goal as Sweden celebrated.
Johnson couldn't be blamed for the goal but, in any case, made amends shortly after tackling Kellstrom with the goal at his mercy. It was a superb interception and stopped the Swede from getting a shot away. It proved crucial as England went behind just under the hour when Milner was booked for another unnecessary tackle and from the resulting free-kick an unmarked Mellberg headed in as all, defence and fans, stood open-mouthed in disbelief. It was appalling defending and utterly unlike England. Where would England go from here and, more importantly, should I go back to 'Pat Malloy's'?
Chasing the game, on the hour Hodgson now made a tactical masterstroke, putting on Walcott for the frustrating Milner just as John Terry saw his point blank header superbly tipped over by Isaksson. From the resulting corner, the ball found its way out to Walcott standing 10 yards outside the area and the Arsenal man looked up and drilled the ball past the whole Swedish team and into the net. Walcott grinned ruefully, he's not been on the pitch three minutes, the ball didn't even take a deflection and I'd suggest Theo could try that 100 times a day and never get the same result!
The game now become an end to end affair with Kallstrom blazing over when he should have done better and Ibrahimovic forcing a smart save from Hart but the whole match turned again when Walcott got past the back of a static defence and crossed low for Welbeck to spin and hit home with a back-heel on 78 minutes. Cue chaos in the ground and in pubs around the country as the fans went wild.
England visibly grew while Sweden looked stunned and, although they pressed never looked like scoring again, England on the other hand broke away and Gerrard could easily have made it four but for a fine stop by the keeper. The whistle blew moments later and England went second in the group while Sweden found themselves out. This result could go a long way to deciding how this England team develops from this tournament regardless of what happens later this month.
A little earlier in the day, the France v Croatia match was halted during a fierce electrical storm but, inclement weather or no, France reigned - ha! See what I did there? - on this one and scored two second-half goals from Menez and Cabeye to top the group.