WHEN England beat Sweden 1-0 last November it was notable for two reasons.
It was the first time we had beaten the Swedes since 1968, and it was to prove Fabio Capello’s final match as manager before resigning following the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy.
It has to be said that 43 years is a long time to wait to beat a country that is not exactly one of the world’s footballing elite.
Had we been talking about the boys from Brazil, or even Argentina, we might have grudgingly accepted it, but Sweden? Come on.
Certainly our record in major competitions against the country that gave us Abba, Bjorn Borg and Ikea is nothing to write home about.
In 1992, Graham Taylor’s England team lost 2-1 in the European Championships with Tomas Brolin scoring a late winner and Gary Lineker bowing out of international football.
Cue the famous tabloid headline “Swedes 2 Turnips 1.” Six years later, England lost by the same scoreline in their first competitive match following the defeat by Argentina at the World Cup, ensuring that our Euro 2000 qualifying campaign started as badly as the last one had finished.
We fared slightly better in the return fixture at Wembley, managing a 0-0 draw.
At the World Cup in 2002, we held on for a draw after being battered for much of the game and four years later we failed to win again despite Joe Cole’s wonder goal, with the match ending 2-2.
Perhaps, though, England’s time has come.
A creditable, if hardly inspiring, draw against the French in the opening group game has given fans the belief that we can at least reach the quarter-finals.
This hope is being fuelled by an unlikely source, with the Swedes threatening to implode in a manner usually reserved for either the French or the Dutch.
After losing their opening match against co-hosts Ukraine, manager Erik Hamrén accused his team of playing like “cowards.”
But if that was not bad enough, the squad has become embroiled in what’s been dubbed “Bumgate” after the players reportedly tried to aim shots at the naked bottom of the reserve goalkeeper Johan Wiland in training. Wiland had lost a game during which the players try to keep the ball in the air, and then had to pull down his shorts and line up at the end of the pitch so that the other players could try to hit him with the ball from the halfway line.
The story has caused widespread embarrassment back in Sweden, even prompting the prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to get involved and remind his fellow countrymen to act “accordingly.”
England will be hoping they have even more to worry about when tonight’s match is over.