Blood, sweat, tears... but why do we never beat Sweden?

It is 43 years and 12 matches since England won against the Scandinavians. Glenn Moore charts the history of a hoodoo dating back to days of Sir Alf

After defeating the world champions, England should surely sweep Sweden aside with ease at Wembley tomorrow night? History suggests not. Who are England's most difficult opponents? The country the Three Lions simply cannot get their teeth into? Argentina? Germany? Both have been beaten twice in a decade. France? Italy? Both were beaten in 1997, 12 months prior to France winning the World Cup. The Dutch? The Portuguese? Both thrashed at Wembley in the mid-1990s. It must be Brazil? No. It's only a mere 10 matches and 27 years since John Barnes weaved his way through the selecao in Rio de Janeiro.

Romania, unbeaten since Geoff Hurst scored the only goal at Mexico 1970, are surprisingly tough opponents, but the team England simply cannot beat are Sweden. No opponent has been as obstinate. Since the then World Cup holders defeated Sweden 3-1 at Wembley in 1968, England have played the Scandinavians 12 times without winning once. Seven of these matches have been in competition. Even when England hired a Swede as manager, England could not elicit a win, Sven Goran Eriksson being unable to defeat his compatriots. Nevertheless, many bookies still price England at 4-6 to win tomorrow.

That is in some ways understandable. Darren Anderton, who scored a late equaliser in England's 3-3 draw against Sweden in Leeds in 1995, said: "I always think England will beat Sweden. When you look on paper I always fancy us, but they are a very dogged team." England goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence, also speaking to FATV, said: "They are [historically] a side that are built not to be beaten."

Indeed, of those 12 matches, eight have been drawn, four of them goalless. England have failed to score six times and only twice scored more than once.

Add to that, said Anderton, "they almost treat it like a cup final when they play us." That much, said Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson after the 2006 match, is true. He said: "I think we are extra motivated when we play against England because in Sweden we grew up with English football and we watch the Premier League. It has always inspired us and we have many players who have played in the Premier League." Or, he could have added, are playing to gain a move to England.

The other factor is that Sweden regularly produce players of real quality, especially in goal (Ronnie Hellstrom, Jan Moller, Thomas Ravelli), centre-half (Bjorn Nordqvist, Glenn Hysen, Patrik Andersson) and at centre-forward where Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the latest of a line that dates back to the Gre-No-Li (Gunnar Gren, Gunner Nordahl, and Niels Liedholm).

Nevertheless, since 1968, the Scots have beaten Sweden five times, Northern Ireland have beaten them three times, and Republic of Ireland have beaten them twice.

"I tried many times, we never beat them," said Eriksson recently. "It is an amazing record, but sooner or later it will end."

The competitive meetings

1988 WC qualifier England 0-0 Sweden, Wembley

England were jeered off after a frustrating match. Chris Waddle hit the post late on, but Peter Shilton needed to make some sharp saves.

1989 WC qualifier Sweden 0-0 England, Stockholm

Best remembered for the sight of Terry Butcher, his bandaged head and shirt soaked in blood. In a classic piece of hyperbole, the England manager, Bobby Robson, declared people had won the Victoria Cross for less. Butcher's son later served in Afghanistan.

1992 EC finals Sweden 2-1 England, Stockholm

Tomas Brolin's beautifully taken winning goal was overshadowed by the sight of Gary Lineker being substituted with 26 minutes remaining. Lineker was left stranded on 48 goals, one short of Bobby Charlton's record. The Sun's response: "Swedes 2, Turnips 1" with manager Graham Taylor lampooned.

1998 EC qualifier Sweden 2-1 England, Stockholm

England, in their first match since the epic World Cup exit to Argentina, scored early through Alan Shearer but conceded to Newcastle United's Andreas Andersson and Celtic's Johan Mjallby. This was the beginning of the end for Glenn Hoddle. One media member rubbed his hands with glee when Sweden took the lead and said, 'that's more like it'.

1999 EC qualifier England 0-0 Sweden, Wembley

Paul Scholes was dismissed for a horrible tackle on Hakan Mild, Martin Keown and David Beckham limped off injured, and a disjointed England rarely looked like winning.

2002 WC finals England 1-1 Sweden, Saitama

Sol Campbell headed England into a first-half lead from a corner taken by David Beckham, back after a broken metatarsal. Everton's Niclas Alexandersson levelled.

2006 WC finals England 2-2 Sweden, Cologne

England seemed destined to end the hex when Steven Gerrard headed in with five minutes left. However, Henrik Larsson levelled in the final minute. Joe Cole (a superb volley) and Marcus Allback had scored earlier. Both went into the knockout stages but not Michael Owen, who suffered a serious knee injury.

The friendlies

1979 Sweden 0-0 England, Stockholm

Captain Emlyn Hughes hit the post in a quiet match.

1986 Sweden 1-0 England, Stockholm

England played poorly in their first match after the "Hand of God" World Cup exit.

1995 England 3-3 Sweden, Leeds

Darren Anderton, with a spectacular late volley, rescued England after errors by Tim Flowers gave Sweden the advantage.

2001 England 1-1 Sweden, Manchester

David Beckham scored from the spot in the first of four unsuccessful attempts by Sven Goran Eriksson to beat his home nation.

2004 Sweden 1-0 England, Gothenburg

Eriksson gave Celtic's Alan Thompson and Spurs' Anthony Gardner their sole caps. A young Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the only goal.

...And the last victory

1968: England 3-1 Sweden, Wembley

Alf Ramsey gave Alex Stepney and Colin Bell their debuts in this friendly but it was World Cup winners Martin Peters, Bobby Charlton and Roger Hunt who secured a comfortable victory, Sweden's goal coming from the last kick of the match.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?