by Matt Pentz
The good news: I couldn’t have picked a better match to attend, as England’s dramatic second half fight back was called by some as the best Three Lions game since they lost on penalties to Portugal at Euro 2004. The bad news: Ukraine’s quarterfinal hopes are in critical condition after last night’s results.
France 2 – Ukraine 0
England 3 – Sweden 2
They’re favorites for a reason
Sweden and Ukraine came into the tournament with legitimate chances of moving on, but France and England are now ideally placed to book quarterfinal berths. International powerhouses have achieved that status by getting it done when it matters, and these two proved their mettle on Friday night.
Reality check for the co-hosts
Expectations had been lifted from ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ here in Kyiv after Ukraine’s stirring 2-1, come-from-behind victory over Sweden. Yes, France and England would be a step up in quality, but Ukrainian fans had faith in their team. The French exposed their weaknesses, however, and after the Yellow-Blues created a few chance in the first half, it was all France. England’s win now means Ukraine will need three points from its finale, and it will take a huge leap in quality to pull it off.
England showed off a fighting spirit
England’s recent major tournament template has been simple: show up with a star-studded side before wilting under the first sings of adversity. This version has, in many ways, been the opposite. What the Three Lions lack in world class talent they made up for in perseverance on Friday, shrugging off a pair of against-the-run-of-play Swedish goals with two of their own, punctuated by Danny Welbeck’s breathtaking back heel game winner.
Take a bow, Theo Walcott
English fans have (impatiently) waited for the Arsenal winger to blossom into a world class attacker. There were whispers going around that maybe he was never going to mature into a star, but Walcott issued a strong counterpoint by coming off the bench to save England’s tournament life. Walcott’s volleyed equalizer restored his team’s faith and it was his run and pass that set up Welbeck’s goal. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking too inexperienced and Ashley Young ineffective, Walcott could be the missing piece to lift his side into the knockout round.
Sweden is too one-dimensional
Few teams in the world rely more on a single player than Sweden do with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The reliance on the striker was staggering — every time an attacker got in a bit of trouble, their head would raise as they frantically looked to dump off the ball to the star. The Swedes came into Euro 2012 on a good run of form and a strong self-belief, but their lack of diversity going forward was an Achilles’ heel and now they’re out.
This is Matt Pentz’s first post on WeFollowFutbol. You can follow him on Twitter here!