Downing helps to lift Swedish hex as fans stay away

England 1 Sweden 0

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The Independent Online

In the space of four days, Fabio Capello has conquered the world champions, vanquished the troublesome Swedes and gained a daughter-in-law and, for once, all he is obliged to apologise for after an international week is being absent on the occasion of the latter.

The victory over Sweden last night, England's first against the nation for 43 years, completed six days from which the Italian can draw some level of satisfaction as he heads off to catch the tail-end of the Capello family wedding celebrations in Milan. England are undefeated in 2011, the first time they have gone unbeaten in a calendar year since 1994, having previously failed to qualify for the World Cup finals that year.

It is not victories in friendlies that the nation demands above all but, goodness knows, it does help. Last night England won their first match against Sweden in 13 attempts since 1968 which removes one minor irritation from the record books; that they did so with some promising performances from the young blades in Capello's squad makes it that bit more significant.

It meant that in the aftermath, Capello was able to talk up the contributions of Phil Jones, Kyle Walker and Jack Rodwell who have seven caps between them but, in brief moments last night, look like they represent a solid bet for the future of England. Whether they are included in Capello's Euro 2012 squad next May is debatable – Jones looks a good prospect, while the other two may just be edged out by those with more experience.

Nevertheless, their performances gave some relevance to a night when the top tiers of Wembley were as empty as for a League Two play-off final and the game was played in front of the smallest crowd to witness a full international in the new stadium, 48,876. The Swedes were poor, and none more disappointing than the ineffectual Zlatan Ibrahimovic who saved another one of his worst performances for the poor souls who paid the Football Association's discounted prices.

If this was a night when the crowd moved on quickly from their preoccupation with John Terry – whose name was first greeted with a mix of booing and cheers – the unlikely star performer was Stewart Downing, who seemed gradually to realise that no one else was going to take the game by the scruff of the neck so he might as well do it for himself.

There was a debut for Daniel Sturridge who was given just more than 30 minutes to impress and was deployed on the right and then left wing. Euro 2012 may come just too early for the Chelsea man and it will probably pass by Bobby Zamora, whose first England start last night was not an unqualified success. In the few chances he got he confirmed that he was, as suspected, not a natural finisher at this level and against this Sweden team he will rarely have had a better opportunity.

The 2,000th goal in the history of the England team was scored last night but not, as the FA had hoped, by Jones or Theo Walcott or even Terry. Instead it went in off the Celtic defender Daniel Majstorovic. Curiously it means that own goals now account for 43 of the goals scored in the history of the national team. It puts own goals fourth in the all-time goalscorers' list and just six off drawing equal with Bobby Charlton's record.

As for Sweden, they did provide some reassurance that not every team at Euro 2012 are as daunting as Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. The wild volley over the bar by Christian Wilhelmsson in the final minutes of the game symbolised just how bad they had been.

Earlier yesterday, Danny Welbeck had been sent back to Manchester United having failed to shake off his thigh injury and, having been a likely starter last night up until that moment, Capello was forced to change his plans accordingly. He kept Walcott in the side and switched the side's focus to a 4-3-3 shape as opposed to the 4-5-1 formation that was used to smother Spain on Saturday.

In the centre of midfield, Jones assumed the role filled by Scott Parker on Saturday but that did not stop him going close to scoring on 40 minutes. He pounced on a mistake in the Swedish midfield and bounded through the opposition's defence in the manner of a young Steven Gerrard before clipping a shot past Andreas Isaksson in goal that just spun wide.

With confidence growing in England's midfield, Downing accelerated past Mikael Lustig at right-back for Sweden just before half-time and gave himself a stride to clip a well-judged cross on to Rodwell's head. The 20-year-old's header grazed Isaksson's post. He should have scored but, nevertheless, in the circumstances it was promising.

Yes, it was slow at times. Sweden, the team ranked 14th in the world by Fifa, are plodders but they chase and track and get in the way. They fell behind on 22 minutes when another good cross from Downing was attacked by Gareth Barry in the box. He got just the faintest of touches but it ricocheted off Majstorovic and carried past Isaksson.

As for Zamora, his best chance came on 17 minutes. He twice exchanged passes with Walcott in the box, the second of which from Zamora was so wayward that Walcott had to head it back. Zamora did little better with the two shots he was afforded.

Downing was nicely economical, making just enough space to cross the ball and not over- elaborating. Poor old Lustig at right-back was being given the full twisted blood treatment and was substituted. Sturridge, James Milner and then later Darren Bent came on, the latter for Zamora who had been well-served by Downing.

The Liverpool man came closest to scoring when he burst forward on 65 minutes and hit a shot that Isaksson saved. Downing, as well as the younger players, has shown Capello that he has options. That is not the same, however, as having a squad capable of beating the best in Europe in Poland and Ukraine next summer. For all the good things to come out of these two games, Capello will surely have accepted that long ago.

Man of the match Downing.

Match rating 6/10.

Referee P Kralovec (Cz Rep).

Attendance 48,876.

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