Football: Ince off as England suffer in Sweden

Sweden 2 England 1 A Andersson 32, Mjallby 33 Shearer 2 Half- time: 2-1 Attendance: 36,000; Road to Euro 2000: Pressure grows on Hoddle after Shearer's striking start
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IN THE land with the world's highest suicide rate, England succumbed to a painful lingering death by their own hand at the Rasunda Stadium last night. Whether the cause can be established as a reaction to the grave disappointment of their World Cup elimination 67 days ago in St Etienne to which they have not fully recovered or it can be partly attributed to the continuing off-the-field brouhaha is difficult to say, but it is bound to cast doubt over Glenn Hoddle's continued stewardship.

With almost poetic timing defeat came on the same day as Christian Gross was given his cards by Tottenham, the England coach's former club and with whom he has been associated in recent days as a possible replacement.

It was not merely the failure of England to inflict a psychologically damaging wound on arguably their most potent rivals for European Championship qualifications, but the manner of their capitulation.

A goal from captain Alan Shearer, whose domestic season has thus far been barren, after a matter of 76 seconds no doubt had Hoddle believing that if his side's start was not heaven-sent, then at least it must be the work of his faith-healing friend Eileen Drewery.

Yet, despite the initial promise of the incisive Jamie Redknapp, returning to his country's cause after 15 months absence through injury, and his fellow midfielder Paul Scholes, their rearguard was ripped asunder in two minutes around the half-hour.

The joke will no doubt be lost on the Toon Army that the first was the work of Andreas Andersson, the Newcastle striker who is far from a favourite of the faithful at St James' Park. The winner, with England in disarray, arrived from the head of Johan Mjallby, who is labelled Sweden's Vinnie Jones.

Hoddle said: "We couldn't have started any better. With that goal coming in the first two minutes and the way we played we were totally in charge. But we gave two goals away. They were strange goals and you can't analyse them. We have taken a step backwards, but it is not a disaster at this stage."

Hoddle was asked for his reaction to Christian Gross's dismissal by Tottenham. He said that he knew nothing about it until he went into the England dressing room before the game. When asked about his possible links with the job he replied: "I'm not talking about it." When pressed further he walked out of the press conference.

England might well have salvaged a point in a combative second period, but midway through the half their cause was scarcely helped by the dismissal of Paul Ince. With David Beckham similarly dispatched against Argentina in England's last game and suspended it is beginning to look decidedly careless on England's part.

Having already been cautioned for a foul, he foolishly fouled Celtic's striker Henrik Larsson and although Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, who had no doubt encountered the former Inter man in Serie A, allowed play to continue, but the conclusion when it eventually stopped was inevitable.

Not that the volatile Liverpool midfielder saw it that way. He first expressed astonishment as the red card was brandished and then, when ushered off by team-mates, attempted to say his piece to the still prone Larsson before delivering a volley of abuse at the official. It was a thoroughly distasteful end for Ince and for England. For all their spirited finale, in which Graeme Le Saux had a venomous effort blocked by Jorgen Pettersson and Shearer had sound claims for a penalty denied, there was no way back for the team who have not won in Sweden for 33 years. Yet Hoddle's men had begun as though they were desperate to purge all the anger and frustration at their exit from France 98 from their collective system.

Michael Owen, who has been feted all week by adoring schoolchildren here, looked particularly sharp, but after revelling in the screams of his female admirers, he was soon to experience the jeers of the home supporters after rashly lunging at Joachim Bjorklund, which earned him a caution.

By then, England were a goal to the good. Scholes, who had displayed such prowess in France, was felled by a combination of Patrik Andersson and Stefan Schwarz just outside the Swedish area in England's first foray into their half. With the resulting free-kick Shearer swept the ball majestically round the wall and into the net via Coventry goalkeeper Magnus Hedman's far post.

As though in response to those sceptics who had begun to wonder if the Shearer touch had diminished through injury, he brandished two arms in elation at the England supporters congregated high above the goal into which he had scored.

Sweden, third in the 1994 World Cup, have never qualified for the finals of the European Championship. But in seven games under Tommy Soderberg, a former teacher appointed as coach 11 months ago in succession to Tommy Svensson, they have appeared to be in the ascendancy, losing only two of seven friendly games and beating Italy, Russia and Denmark. They have also drawn with the subsequent World Cup winners, France.

England were to find to their cost the strength of their conviction that they could reach the finals in Holland and Belgium this time. For half an hour, the Swedes had enjoyed considerable possession, but appeared to lack the imagination to fashion chances for Larsson and Pettersson, but in the 30th minute they were at last given the chance to get in a blow at David Seaman. Gareth Southgate brought Pettersson to ground in a position similar to where Shearer had scored from and although the former Arsenal midfielder Schwarz's fearsome effort was parried by his former Highbury team-mate Seaman, Andersson forced the ball home.

For the first time, the 3,500 England fans were silenced and before they had time to begin vocal encouragement anew their favourites were struck another blow when Larsson performed well to hold the ball up near the goal line and lay it back for Pontus Kaamark to cross. Johan Mjallby ponunced on Scholes' clumsy interception to head past Seaman. The England defence might have been further embarrassed as Sweden began the second half with a passion which reflected that of their supporters, who are hungry for success.

The home faithful had come for a vision of England's future, Michael Owen. On a night of frustration, he was given little opportunity to exhibit those prodigious skills. Instead they went home, reflecting on the renaissance of a forgotten team who have learnt their lessons well from their new coach.

Andrew Longmore, page 3