Forward Danny Welbeck scored late in the second half, sending England to a thrilling 3-2 victory over Sweden Friday in Group D action of the European championship in Kiev, Ukraine.
When you take into account all the controversy and injuries surrounding England, it’s easy to understand why the soccer-crazy nation was so lightly regarded prior to Euro 2012 — even by its rabid fans.
After all, star striker Wayne Rooney is serving a two-game suspension and midfielder Frank Lampard was ruled out with a thigh injury in the lead-up to the tournament.
Then there’s the mercurial John Terry. The former captain was included on the roster despite facing a trial immediately after the European championship for the alleged racial abuse of an opponent, in addition to his three-game UEFA ban when the Chelsea defender struck his knee into the back of Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez.
But England is alive and well as Friday’s exhilarating victory over Sweden proved.
Forward Andy Carroll, who had drawn criticism for his inclusion in the team, sparked the English side early on.
Breaking between two Swedish defenders in the 23rd minute, Carroll located a perfectly angled Steven Gerrard pass and sent a powerful header past Sweden goalie Andreas Isaksson to the delight of the onlooking Rooney.
But as much action as the first half provided, it paled in comparison with the final 45 minutes.
Sweden began the second half with a furious attack leading to two goals within 10 minutes.
After England defender Glen Johnson’s own goal put Sweden on even footing in the 49th minute, the Swedes took a 2-1 advantage minutes later. Defender Olof Mellberg moved into a soft spot of England's defence and headed a free kick that beat goalkeeper Joe Hart.
England quickly responded in the 64th minute as midfielder Theo Walcott — a second-half substitute — drove a shot in front of the penalty area past a fooled Isaksson.
The final twist in this entertaining match occurred in the 78th minute. In a tournament filled with beautiful goals, Welbeck’s sublime game winner could well top the list.
Walcott raced through two Sweden defenders to the right of the box, then sent a pass back to Welbeck, who spun while redirecting the ball with his right heel, ahead of the outreached arm of Isaksson.
What this result means
- England moves into a first-place tie with France in Group D, although the French have the edge in goal differential. England also welcomes back Rooney in its final contest against Ukraine. The loss eliminates Sweden from the European championship, a surprising result as the Swedes were confident heading into the tournament with four straight international wins.
The winning goal
- Welbeck’s magnificent back-heel goal was something Swedish defenders could only shake their heads over.
Man of the match
- It didn’t seem like a major move at the time, but Walcott’s insertion into the second half could well have saved England’s tournament. Walcott came off the bench to score the tying goal before setting up Welbeck’s game winner.
The English perspective
- "Just to make my first appearance in such a high-profile arena it just means so much to me. It's been a long time waiting and hopefully there'll be more to come from me." — Midfielder Theo Walcott
The Swedish perspective
- "I thought we were a much better team then them. We've taken the lead in two games now after 60 minutes and then lost it. … But today we played exactly the way we want to play." — Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic
With files from The Associated Press