England vs. Sweden: 10 Things Fabio Capello's Team Learned
It was almost a perfect evening.
England had scored for the 2,000th time in their storied international history.
Gareth Barry, the hard-working central midfielder who was wearing the No. 10 shirt for the evening, had scored with a gorgeous glancing header into the far corner of the Swedish net.
And speaking of those pesky Swedes, they were going to lose to England for the first time since black-and-white television was king.
As the saying goes, two out of three ain't bad.
England did score their 2,000th goal. And the pesky Swedes finally lost to England.
But the winning goal was credited to a Swede—in this case, defender Daniel Majstorovic, in his own net.
How appropriate, right? Once the English finally found a way to beat Sweden, they had to get a Swede to do the dirty work.
It's not the way you'd want it to happen, but it's no matter. The full story is this:
England did win. England did play well. And England did make history in two ways: by scoring for the 2,000th time and by beating Sweden for the first time since 1968.
And now, with the Euro 2012 draw looming in just over two weeks, England have some momentum. With international week finally finished, England have two wins, two clean sheets and a whole lot to like.
England Don't Have To Play Dour Football To Win
England beat Spain over the weekend, but if you only read the English press, you'd think the Three Lions had lost to Albania.
So how does a team of perennial underachievers beat the world champions and then get lambasted by their home press?
Simple: by playing dire, dour, ugly football while doing so.
To beat Spain, England played a version of football that was hard on the eyes but good for results. It earned them scorn in their homeland.
To beat Sweden, though, England took a different approach. Fabio Capello's men didn't put on a masterclass of beautiful attacking football—do they ever?—but they did play positively, and they did produce a few moments of excellence.
England controlled possession—54 percent to 46—and devoted themselves to patient, effective build-up play. The result was one of those excellent moments, gorgeous goal midway through the first half on the Gareth Barry/Daniel Majstorovic header.
The possession and passing didn't lead to another goal, but they should have. If not for some poor finishing, mostly on the part of Jack Rodwell, England could have had two or three goals at the break.
They didn't, and after halftime, they looked content to protect their lead.
It wasn't the most beautiful performance, but it was an improvement over the Spain game.
More importantly, it was enough to get the win.
England Can Score (and Win) Without Wayne Rooney
One of Capello's most prominent objectives for the past two games must have been finding out how his team would fare without talismanic striker Wayne Rooney.
If the victories over Spain and Sweden are any indication, England might be fine.
As we all know, Rooney will miss England's group matches at next summer's Euro 2012 (pending appeal). Finding adequate replacements, therefore, must be atop Capello's to-do list.
Neither Jack Rodwell nor Bobby Zamora, who formed England's strikeforce Tuesday, will ever start ahead of Rooney when the latter is fit. But they both showed that they're capable of creating danger for opposing defenses.
Zamora took ball nicely, included his teammates and passed well. He doesn’t score a lot, but neither does Darren Bent. For that matter, neither did Emile Heskey when he wore the England shirt.
Rodwell had a few really great chances to score but didn’t. He missed an absolute sitter when he headed Downing’s cross onto the post late in the first half. But he played pretty well overall. Worthy of another look.
Somehow, the two forged a decent partnership against Sweden. They're not world-beaters (to be fair, the verdict is still out on Rooney on that score), but they might just be bridge-gappers.
Theo Walcott Is Dangerous on the Wing
England played their best football when they played with width.
Not coincidentally, Theo Walcott was a monster on the right wing.
He combined well, repeatedly with right back Kyle Walker in the early stages. Later in the first half, he and Zamora worked a couple of combinations in the Sweden box.
Until he was substituted early in the second half, Walcott owned right wing.
That's a very good sign for England.
Same for Stewart Downing
Stewart Downing left Aston Villa this past summer in the hopes that he would find more opportunities with the England squad.
He's gotten more opportunities, and he's taking advantage.
Like Walcott, Downing was immense for England. Like Walcott on the right, Downing owned the left wing.
He burned Swedish defenders down the flank and consistently made crosses into dangerous areas.
Most importantly, he supplied the sublime cross that led to the winning goal.
The question, as always, with Downing is whether he can replicate this form consistently.
England must be hoping he can.
Walker for Right Back
A cheer went up from the Wembley crowd when the public address announcer named Kyle Walker England's man of the match.
You won't hear any complaints from this corner.
Walker was a menace down the right side as he constantly forayed into the Swedish half. He also defended well for most of the night.
Glen Johnson might have to raise his game to keep his place.
The Phil Jones Experiment Is Actually Working
When Capello named Phil Jones as a midfielder for the Spain match, most fans probably had the same reaction we had here.
Mostly, it was confusion.
But Jones, who's a defender at the club level with Manchester United, has been a revelation in the holding midfield role for England. Against Sweden, he put in another stout performance, squelching attacks and distributing well to fellow midfielders out of the back.
It's hard to imagine why Capello wouldn't keep Jones there for a long time. Still just 19, Jones appears to have a bright future with England.
Baines Could Be Valuable at Left Back
Leighton Baines isn't going to supplant Ashley Cole in the pecking order at left back.
But his performance against Sweden suggested he could be an excellent understudy.
If Cole, who will be 31 next summer, gets injured during Euro 2012, England have a backup ready in Baines.
John Terry Can Block out Anything
After the match, John Terry gave a composed, confident interview. He didn't seem fazed at all by the situation going on around him.
While Terry continues to be involved in an ugly racism scandal, and while pundits continue to call for his resignation as England captain, he continues to be a rock for England.
He didn't play against Spain, but he fitted seamlessly into the England defense against Sweden. As ever, he was strong in the air, confident on the ball and composed at all times.
We're not John Terry fans, but he is a very, very good defender.
Gary Cahill Is a Good Option in Central Defense
So is Gary Cahill, for that matter.
Cahill's performance gave Capello another option to consider at center back. Capello has plenty of options, of course, but Cahill keeps showing that he's one of the best.
It's hard to imagine him sticking around Bolton much longer.
This England Team Is Capable of Reversing History
Before Tuesday night, England hadn’t beaten Sweden since 1968, a run of 12 matches.
Big deal, right?
Not really, but it’s still significant.
The win might show that these players aren’t fazed by the precedent of history. Or, on the other hand, it might mean absolutely nothing.
But this team hasn't won anything while any of its players have been alive. Considering that fact, even the smallest reversal of history can only be a good thing.