Familiar foes who failed in Premiership will offer sterner test

Click to follow
The Independent Football

After the laboured victory against the lower-division journeymen of Trinidad & Tobago, England's players and supporters should know better than to judge any opponent by the teamsheet, but some will still find it difficult to avoid a sense of superiority creeping in when they study Sweden's line-up on Tuesday.

Freddie Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson command respect in any company but Teddy Lucic, Marcus Allback, Mattias Jonson, Rami Shaaban and Tobias Linderoth are all associated with a failure to make the grade in the Premiership, while Anders Svensson, Erik Edman and Niclas Alexandersson never really stamped themselves on it.

But as Agustin Delgado and Ivan Kaviedes, of Ecuador, and Australia's John Aloisi have shown, that does not necessarily preclude them from making an impact in this World Cup. And it means it will not just be the fact that Sweden still need a point to ensure qualification from Group B which will motivate them. As Lucic (17 appearances for Leeds United) said: "A lot of our players were not appreciated in England; perhaps the clubs made a mistake in letting them go."

Allback (six goals in 35 games for Aston Villa) added: "My time in England was a disappointment. I had two managers; one didn't play me [Graham Taylor], the other only did at the beginning [David O'Leary]. But maybe I just wasn't good enough. I don't think so, but I can't just say I was the best player and the managers were idiots. With O'Leary I think he lost trust in me because I kept coming back injured from international duty." He added, in self-contradiction: "It doesn't motivate me for revenge, but with my history it would be nice to score against England."

Allback's unhappy sojourn in the Premiership did not, though, leave him blind to England's, as yet largely unseen, potential. "Like us they are a good solid team with good players," he said. "It's only a matter of time before they or us go and do something in one of these tournaments.

"This is the best Swedish side I've been in. We have players with big-name clubs, and good players for every position. I think it is the same with England. Both teams have players with a lot of caps, and you need that experience in the World Cup."

Another player who was unable to hold down a regular spot in the Premiership, Shaaban, the former Arsenal reserve goalkeeper, viewed the match not as a chance for revenge but as an opportunity to meet up with an old friend.

Shaaban, who played in Sweden's opening game against Trinidad & Tobago, grew close to Sol Campbell at Highbury, and he said of the defender's recent problems: "I often met him in Hampstead for a chat and a cup of coffee. A lot of our discussions were quite deep ones, that is why I like him a lot. When he had his problems I sent him text messages to say, 'I'm there for you'. I myself have gone through a very hard spell after I left Arsenal, with my divorce and struggling to settle at a club, so I know exactly what he is going through.

"He is a very emotional guy, and people like that can be hit harder by setbacks than people who are a bit cold. But you have to have a perspective to everything. Look at us. We are living fantastic lives. There are people who don't have food on the table. I did not even expect to get into the Swedish squad but I actually played against Trinidad. Millions of people would have swapped that with me."

And so to Tuesday, which is expected to see the World Cup bow of another player yet to prove his worth in the Premiership, Theo Walcott. Ljungberg, an Arsenal colleague on the training ground if not the first team, said: "I was very impressed with him last season. If he plays against us I do not expect him to be fazed. I'm sure he will raise his game. But our main worry is the return of Wayne Rooney."

In that, Ljungberg is not alone. There are several coaches in Germany, and probably one in Manchester, feeling the same.

Parallel worlds: Uncertain starts then and now

The fear [was] that the lack of outstandingly creative players was a fundamental deficiency that would ultimately cripple the English challenge... Organisation and tactical discipline are necessary... but must never be seen as a substitute for real talent.

Hugh McIlvanney reports in The Observer on England's first game in 1966, which ended 0-0

England's players know that their win has been over-shadowed by doubts back home about their performance... This was a match that was supposed to represent so much, to define England's whole approach and yet, by the end, you felt you knew even less.

Sam Wallace of The Independent on England's first game in 2006, a 1-0 win against Paraguay

Two goals were scored by England, who thus broke their duck. It wasn't an exhilarating performance, but as Alf Ramsey said, "It is never easy to play when the opposition crowds the penalty area with eight defenders."

Kenneth Wolstenholme, BBC TV commentator, on England's second 1966 game, 2-0 against Mexico

There was too little quickness of foot or mind from an England team that had known for months they would meet this kind of stubbornness... barring a fast transformation, England will not avoid calamity in the World Cup.

Kevin McCarra of The Guardian on England's second game in 2006, Thursday's 2-0 win over T & T