England and France moved one step closer to making the Euro 2012 quarter-finals on Friday night, as the Group D favourites recorded wins over Sweden and Ukraine respectively. The pair now only need draws in their final games to make the last eight, but both will be eager to top the group to avoid probable Group C winners Spain in the next round.
England opted to play two up front in their game with Sweden, with Roy Hodgson’s decision vindicated when Andy Carroll powered home a header in the first-half to give the Three Lions the lead. Sweden knew after their opening defeat to Ukraine that they needed a result, ideally a win, to stay in the qualification reckoning, and had large periods of the ball in the first 45 without really troubling Joe Hart overly in the England goal.
AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was largely involved in the team’s attacks and had a number of exchanges with England centre backs John Terry and Joleon Lescott. The Swedes’ only real attempts of note were from range, with Ibrahimovic and Svensson testing Hart with shots from outside the box.
Erik Hamren will have given his side a talking to in the interval, and the Scandinavians came out after the break with more energy and purpose. After a period of play in England’s half, the Swedes drew level after their opponents failed to deal with a crossed delivery, and Olof Mellberg’s header was turned into his own net by Glen Johnson. Things went from bad to worse for England soon after, as non-existent marking from a Sweden free-kick allowed Mellberg to drift in at the back post and head past a hapless Hart.
Hodgson changed things with the introduction of Theo Walcott from the bench, and the Arsenal man wasted little time in making his impact felt. The tricky winger pulled the Three Lions back onto equal terms with a shot from the edge of the box, which took a fortunate deflection to find its way into the Sweden goal. England scored the winner as the game came to a close, as excellent work from Walcott once more to centre the ball saw Danny Welbeck on hand to cleverly convert with a turning backheel.
England now know that a draw against Ukraine in Donetsk will see them through to the last eight, with Wayne Rooney also returning after serving a two-match ban. Sweden are eliminated after back-to-back defeats, and will be frustrated with throwing away leads in both games.
Meanwhile in the first game of the day France put in a confident and composed performance to beat co-hosts Ukraine 2-0. Laurent Blanc changed his personnel slightly with Jeremy Menez taking the place of Florent Malouda in an attacking midfield role. Les Bleus fans and the French press demanded victory after their opening draw against England, and it was the new man Menez who set them on their way to it with the opener just after the interval.
With Ukraine looking to get back into the game without ever really threatening, Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye ensured a French win with their second soon after. The victory means that Blanc’s side move top of Group D on goal difference.
France take on pointless Sweden in the last game, and will hope to win to top the group, whilst England travel to Donetsk to face Ukraine knowing that a draw will be enough to see them through.