Every time an international break comes around, I seem to spend a portion of my time writing about how they are often needless, futile and totally joyless experiences, so forgive me if I revert to type now I’m writing about England’s trip to face Sweden on Wednesday.
Of all the matches in the international schedule, this one has to be the most pointless of the lot. I know I tend to say that about nearly every international break, but I actually mean it this time: a friendly in mid-November when there are vital club games both domestically and abroad on the horizon – not to mention being right on top of the busiest period of the season – just doesn’t make any sense.
The number of withdrawals from squads across the globe prove that this is a game that nobody really wants, but here it is anyway, so let’s make do the best that we can. The visit to mark the opening of Sweden’s brand new Friends Arena is England’s last match of the calendar year and nobody would argue with the FA if they were keen to forget 2012 as soon as possible.
It has been a tumultuous year that has seen great upheaval, controversy and little success on the pitch. From the very outset, John Terry’s race charge hung over the FA and the domino effect resulted in the departure of Fabio Capello just three months before Euro 2012 – a situation that looked to suit both parties, but was messy, unseemly and totally unnecessary.
The FA then turned, against all expectations, to Roy Hodgson, rather than Illiterate ‘Arry, to lead the team into the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, although the former Fulham boss has hardly been a resounding success so far.
Widespread criticism may have escaped him, but don’t be fooled – Hodgson has been poor. Given a far easier ride than his predecessors, Uncle Roy has served up dull, predictable, two-banks-of-four tripe and nobody is able to convince me otherwise.
England may not have lost a game inside 90 minutes under Hodgson (although the dire penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the summer is the defining moment of his reign) but he has been getting away with it big time. The Three Lions might not even be top of their World Cup qualifying section come Thursday morning – a very poor start indeed – and draws against Ukraine and Poland, either side of a dodgy display against San Marino, have been fortunate and underwhelming.
So on and off the pitch it has not been a good year for all those connected with Team England and we haven’t even mentioned Tube-gate, Rio Ferdinand’s omission, Ashley Cole’s tweet or the numerous other issues that have plagued the national setup. The FA will be hoping for a smoother ride in 2013, the 125th birthday for the organisation, but the trip to Sweden must be negotiated first.
England are 17/10 to round off their year with a victory, with Sweden a 31/20 chance to open up their new stadium in style. The draw, however, is where I’ll be going at 9/4.
The two sides met each other, as they always seem to do, at the European Championships, with England winning 3-2 in the most entertaining match of Hodgson’s short stint in charge. There wasn’t a great deal between the sides that night, as there wasn’t when England beat Sweden 1-0 at Wembley a year ago, and I think the draw is the sensible way to go.
Without the withdrawn Wayne Rooney, I wouldn’t be keen to back the national side against anyone and I think a trip to Sweden, especially given the circumstances in which the game will be played, is a difficult assignment for Hodgson.
Sweden have been beaten just once in their last 17 home games (against Brazil) and come into this match on the back of one of the most incredible results of recent years, a 4-4 draw with Germany were the Swedes trailed 4-0 with half an hour left.
They are a capable side and Erik Hamren seems to have added a further attacking element that hasn’t always been prevalent in previous teams: Sweden have scored at least two goals in ten of their last 13 matches.
So this is a tough one for England, but Sweden look a bit short at 31/20 to me and with Hodgson setting up not to get beaten first and foremost, I think we could end up with another draw. It has happened in five of the last seven meetings and can do so again at 9/4.