In charge of England, Sven Goran Eriksson has specialised in performances that defy comprehension, games that come with triumph and despair in equal measure and last night was his defining act. England won Group B but lost Michael Owen to a horrific injury. Their first half was uplifting, their second almost disastrous. They are not making life simple for themselves.
Ecuador await in the knock-out round in Stuttgart on Sunday and the South Americans may argue that while they are the relative unknown quantity, England under Eriksson are truly unknowable. Even after Owen made his heartbreaking two-yard crawl over the touchline in the first minute, dragging behind him a damaged right knee, this was an England performance that stirred the blood and was adorned by a brilliant goal by Joe Cole. Then they collapsed.
The second half was a retreat under the aerial bombardment of an average Sweden team who won 12 corners in the match and seemed like they might score from all of them. Marcus Allback headed one in before Steven Gerrard launched his now traditional late rescue act with an 85th-minute goal that seemed to have settled the game before the ball bounced three times in the England area and Henrik Larsson tapped in the equaliser.
Still following the plot? In between there was time for another outburst of temper from Wayne Rooney, who kicked a water bottle, threw his boots away and punched the dug-out when he was substituted on 69 minutes.
"I felt I could have played longer," Rooney said later and that much was easy to see. Although his replacement Gerrard is now established as the one constant in this team: he always seems to come good.
Just when Eriksson was dealing with the reality that he has only three fit strikers and one is an uncapped 17-year-old who has never played in the Premiership Rio Ferdinand limped off with a hamstring injury and the defence continued to unravel. Paul Robinson was flapping at crosses and Gerrard was required to kick a ball off the line within three minutes of coming on. Sol Campbell started uncertainly. England appeared to have created for themselves a whole new set of problems.
You could start with the strikers and the great danger that has lurked behind England's preparation ever since Theo Walcott was named in the squad on 8 May. As Owen collapsed in agony and dragged himself off the pitch a cruciate ligament injury is the appalling prospect Jermain Defoe's exclusion became a good deal more crucial. Eriksson continues to protest that Joe Cole and Gerrard can play behind Rooney and the smart money is that Owen's absence now forces England towards the 4-5-1 formation with which their manager has flirted of late.
Why? Because to cast the mind back beyond the chaos of the second half, to a time when Sweden seemed likely to score with every attack, this was an England team that excelled with the help of Owen Hargreaves as a holding midfielder. They found width where none had existed before and, in Joe Cole, had the game's outstanding player. He discovered an understanding with Ashley Cole, he stepped over the ball, he dribbled, he caused Sweden problems.
All over the 45,000-capacity crowd, England supporters took stock and decided that this, indeed, was a team that looked like the sum of its talented parts. Even their old bête noire Hargreaves was embraced and deservedly so he cleared up in midfield and lent the team a balance.
On 24 minutes, four sumptuous touches from Rooney took him between Olof Mellberg and Teddy Lucic, the latter of the two recovering brilliantly to block the striker's shot. Joe Cole had Ashley Cole overlapping behind him and, although he rarely acknowledged him with a pass, it unsettled the Swedes. Then on 34 minutes the Chelsea boy from Islington struck a goal to savour.
Niclas Alexandersson's looping header out of defence bounced awkwardly for Joe Cole and he was forced to jut out his chest to bring it under control. The onrushing Swedish defence would allow him no more than one more touch so he made it a good one: a delicate, dipping, lobbed volley on which Andreas Isaakson laid one glove but could not push clear.
England ended the half on a high to which they never returned. Other than giving more attention to Joe Cole, the Sweden manager Lars Lagerback did not make fundamental changes but England began to crumble. Allback, little more than average in his time at Aston Villa, was allowed by his marker David Beckham to glance a header from Tobias Linderoth's corner from the left across Paul Robinson's goal and into the far corner.
Lagerback immediately sent on the winger Christian Wilhelmsson for Mattias Jonson as a clear indication that the Swedes would not be settling for a draw. From a corner on the opposite side, Larsson headed goalwards and Robinson touched the ball on to the bar. The match had drifted dangerously away from England.
Campbell's first action was less than assured. He allowed a corner to drift over his head to Lucic, who nodded it back to Mellberg and his volley clipped the England cross bar, although the Arsenal defender later redeemed himself with a block on Larsson. With 21 minutes left, Rooney, who had quietened considerably by then, was called to the touchline by Eriksson to be replaced by Gerrard. His stroppiness was made evident in his actions but did not prevent him from clutching Eriksson's proffered handshake.
Just as Allback's equaliser had come definitively against the run of play so, too, was Gerrard's goal. Joe Cole made space for himself on the right side and cut the ball back to the far post where Gerrard headed home. By then Freddie Ljungberg had also hit the bar and England were staggering towards the finish line.
Sweden's second equaliser of the night was a serious cause for concern. Erik Edman's throw was allowed to bounce three times in the area before Larsson turned it in. It was an inglorious way to win Group B and that 38-year unbeaten run the Swedes have over England continues. England have played Ecuador only once in a friendly in May 1970, and they were still world champions then. Reclaiming that status next month is a task that they made even more complex last night.
Man-for-man marking: Who came up smelling of roses in Cologne. By Steve Tongue
Previously unimpressive, improved here. No chance with the goals and later made fine reaction save from Larsson's header. 7/10
Standing in for Gary Neville again, kept Lungberg relatively quiet in unobtrusive manner. 5/10
Star man against Trinidad and Tobago, less successful this time when under pressure at set-pieces. 5/10
An outstanding tackle on Ljungberg was the highlight of his 50th international, before being forced off injured. 6/10
Fewer opportunities to get down the flank in tandem with his busier namesake. Caught out for the late equaliser. 5/10
One dangerous free-kick and a fine pass for Rooney but subdued thereafter. Why was he left marking Allback for the first equaliser? 4/10
Midfield anchor did the job he was there for, if not quite in Bayern style. Booked for handball. 6/10
Enjoyed the security of having Hargreaves behind him and thrust forward for several good efforts before fading in second half. 5/10
Plenty of tricks and more importantly plenty of crosses and a superb strike for the opening goal. Temptation to overdo things afterwards just about resisted. 8/10
Started superbly despite having to adjust to new experience of playing with Crouch. Will get better. 7/10
Won the sympathy vote at least after accidental injury that threatens to end his tournament.
Peter Crouch (for Owen, 4 minutes) Two good headers in second half. 6/10
Sol Campbell (for Ferdinand, 56) Marked first entry into the tournament with great block tackle to prevent Larsson giving Sweden the lead. 6/10
Steven Gerrard (for Rooney, 69) Matched Campbell's impact with immed iate goal-line clearance and later with important goal. 7/10
Had lots of time to see Joe Cole's shot but could only get one weak hand on it. Few saves to make otherwise. 5/10
Experience with three English clubs should have made him wise to Cole's trickery. Struggled to cope and received yellow card. 4
The Aston Villa defender might have scored when clipping the bar in the second half. 6
Unenviable task of subduing Rooney and did better than expected after poor experience at Leeds. Good knock down for Mellberg's chance. 7
Had been regarded as suspect left-back but kept Beckham quiet most of the time. 6
Back in Sweden after his season with Norwich, made little impression before being replaced. 4
A flop at Everton where he failed to score in 40 games, quiet here until finding his range with dangerous corners. 5
Wasted some set pieces but sat in front of the back four to better effect as game went on. 5
Rather than take on Ashley Cole, stuck mainly to the left, making only two dangerous incursions. 5
Standing in for the taller Zlatan Ibrahimovic, became the first opponent to breach England's defence this tournament with clever header. 6
The former Celtic striker was invisible in the first half before improving, like his team after the interval. 6
Christian Wilhelmsson (for Jonsson, 54). Made little impression after coming into midfield. 4
Johann Elmander (for Allback, 74). Rugged striker had no time to impress. 4
Daniel Andersson (for Linderoth, 90)
Germany v Sweden Saturday 24 June, Munich, 4pm
England v Ecuador Sunday 25 June, Stuttgart, 4pmReuse content