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Friday, June 15, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

England must end jinx against Sweden


LONDON — It seems to be an unwritten law in football that in competitive matches England does not beat Sweden. In seven meetings at the World Cup and European Championship there have been five draws and two Swedish victories.

Christopher Davies

If England fails to record its first competitive win over Sweden in Kiev on Friday, it will be facing elimination from Euro 2012.

England's opening 1-1 draw against France was the outcome most (here) expected with no surprises from the new manager's side. Roy Hodgson's team was pragmatic rather than pretty, solid rather than scintillating, dour rather than dazzling, hard to beat but also hard to watch.

It was 4-4-2 going on 8-2 as Les Bleus dominated possession and forced England to defend in depth.

There is plenty of room for improvement but whether the England players can improve is another matter. England's passing was poor with James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young misplacing more than half of their passes.

Remarkably, in 90 minutes Young made only seven passes. Where England cannot be criticized is for failing to take their chances, or rather chance — Joleon Lescott's goal was its only effort on target throughout the game.

The suspicion is that with the players it has England is not going to outplay many teams. Chelsea won the Champions League with acts of escapology against Barcelona and Bayern Munich that Houdini would have been proud of.

England cannot expect similar luck.

Defense is not the new attack.

Hodgson, who called the France result "a platform," has several concerns ahead of the second match, notably the midfield pair of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker, the Thirtysomethings' fitness and ability to play in the punishing schedule of the European Championship in question.

"I don't know the answer," said Hodgson when asked about this. "They are both over 30 and I am sure I'm not the only one wondering whether they can do it every four days. This is what tournament football is all about."

Hodgson will probably field an unchanged team against Sweden and worry about Ukraine later. The manager would like to rotate his midfield, but the loss of Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere and Gareth Barry to injury has left him with Milner and the inexperienced Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson as the only cover for the midfield holding roles.

Sweden, beaten 2-1 by Ukraine in their opener, has its problems, too, though of a different kind. At halftime Zlatan Ibrahimovic had an argument (probably one-sided) with Markus Rosenberg, Ibra later made his feelings known when some of the players went up to their wives and girlfriends after the game rather than to warm down. In the end, he sent physiotherapist Rickard Dahan to bring them back.

Sweden manager Erik Hamren claimed some of his players were "cowards" in the first half, just about the worst accusation that can be leveled against a professional.

Hamren said: "We didn't show the courage we were supposed to. Only five or six players did. We all need all the players doing that. We were cowards in the first half and should have done more. I'm not happy with the team, I was expecting more."

The general view in England is that it has little to fear from Sweden or Ukraine, but those watching England play France could say the same thing about Hodgson's team.

* * *

ENGLAND PLAYERS made a visit to Auschwitz where an estimated three million people perished during World War II. The trip was jointly arranged by the Football Association and the Holocaust Educational Trust.

I have been there and it is a deeply moving experience but surely not one that should be the focus of media attention. If the players of any of the Euro 2012 finalists in Poland wanted to pay their respects it is best done, as in England's case, without handpicked journalists by the F.A., which pooled the reaction of the players.

This ensured that what should have been a private visit became a shameless public relations exercise. I have no doubt the England players were, like all decent people, horrified and what they saw, the memories staying with them for the rest of their lives.

Some things are best done in private without the media in tow.

And it was astonishing that the media coverage praised England players for conducting themselves with dignity and respect at Auschwitz.

As opposed to what?

* * *

A COUPLE of months ago Harry Redknapp looked set to be named as England manager.

Now he's out of a job.

Managers rarely quit because they will lose compensation but the relationship between Totteham chairman Daniel Levy and Redknapp, who had one year remaining on his contract before being fired Wednesday, was clearly strained.

At the same time Spurs could hardly have done better than they have under Redknapp, finishing fourth, fifth and fourth, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time last season and robbed of a second appearance because Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the final last month.

It is a mystery why Levy had allowed Redknapp's contract to enter its final year.

Everton's David Moyes is already mooted as a successor.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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