So who said a Roy Hodgson England side would be boring at Euro 2012?
Yes, I’m willing to stick my hand up and say I expected a series of low-scoring games that would bring tears of boredom to the watching masses, but Friday’s 3-2 defeat of Sweden was anything but dull and a win secured in such dramatic circumstances has put a spring in the step of all connected with England.
Coming from 2-1 down with half an hour left against anybody in an international tournament is no mean feat, but the euphoria that followed Danny Welbeck’s brilliant late winner should come with a touch of caution.
England hardly looked like world beaters against the Swedes and the way in which they surrendered the advantage that Andy Carroll’s excellent header gave them at half-time was as alarming as it was poor.
Hodgson’s default setting of men behind the ball came unstuck in the opening 15 minutes of the second period thanks to some horrendous set-piece defending – an area you would expect England to be strong – and there looked no way back.
That they rallied to win shows a great deal of character and that should be applauded, as should Hodgson’s introduction of Theo Walcott, who turned the game on its head with the sort of dangerous display he has all too seldom delivered for the Three Lions.
If England’s display against Sweden hinted at problems to come when they face better sides, they can at least be safe in the knowledge that Ukraine are not one of those better sides.
But the feeling that two average sides were competing on Friday is inescapable and the truth is England were a bit better than Sweden – no more, no less.
It has, however, put them in a commanding position in Group D and should they avoid defeat in their final fixture against co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk on Tuesday, they will qualify for the quarter-finals, which would represent a successful tournament for Hodgson’s men.
They are 11/10 with bwin to secure the three points, with Ukraine at 5/2 and the draw quoted at 12/5.
And if England’s display hinted at problems to come when they face better sides, they can at least be safe in the knowledge that Ukraine are not one of those better sides.
The co-hosts got out of jail in their win over Sweden thanks to the some brilliant finishing from Andriy Shevchenko, aided by some poor Swedish play, but France beat them comfortably last time out and they looked ill-equipped to cope with a side that showed some genuine attacking ingenuity.
That may not be something that England have displayed in abundance, but the good news for the Three Lions is the return of Wayne Rooney from suspension.
Welbeck and Carroll performed admirably enough in his absence but there is no substitute for class and as England’s best player, Rooney can add some much-needed quality to the ranks.
His return is one reason for plumping for England. With a draw enough to see them through to the last eight, there is always the chance Hodgson will switch to pragmatic mode from the outset, but there is nothing to fear from Ukraine that suggests attack is not the best form of defence.
Ukraine have kept just one clean sheet in seven and have conceded at least two goals in five of those matches. The opposition (Austria, Israel, Turkey) has hardly been stellar and England should have it in them to silence a vociferous home crowd.
It may take a while, with England feeling themselves into the game, so the 9/2 on draw half time/England full time is also worth a look for a bit more value.
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