This is the week in which Sweden's fondness for Roy Hodgson has burst out all over again. The 4-4-2 system he introduced at Halmstad and Malmo in the 1970s and 1980s, which was then adopted by the national team, had been beginning to feel old and rigid under Lars Lagerback. Erik Hamren – the coach Hodgson faces tonight – decided to introduce something attack-minded and new. Now, the Swedes want to go back to the Hodgson way.
"Bloody hell, that was naive," screamed Aftonbladet's headline yesterday, as the paper reflected on the tactics that brought defeat by Ukraine on Monday.
Hodgson knows, as he seeks victory here tonight, that he risks reaping the whirlwind of the fascination with English football he bestowed on Sweden. The 4-4-2 game he and Bobby Houghton brought engendered that interest, which was fuelled further by the English football show Tipsextra, a Saturday-evening institution for years from the 1970s. It is why you will find passionate Derby County fans in corners of Sweden and it is why – the very significant point for tonight – Sweden are always especially desperate to beat England. It is tantamount to facing an old colonial master.
Sven Goran Eriksson related yesterday how as an England manager who faced his countrymen in two tournaments, he told his players: "Sweden is a tough, a very tough opponent." "It's in the heart and soul of every Swede to make life miserable for England" he said. "The consequence is that Swedish players always work a little bit harder when they play England. It's like a derby to them. That makes Sweden a nasty rival. And I don't think I have to remind you that the games in 2002 and 2006 ended in a great English disappointment."
Eriksson was talking about the 1-1 draw in Saitama at the 2002 World Cup, when Niclas Alexandersson seized on Danny Mills' "dreadful failure of a pass", as Eriksson remembered it yesterday. There was also the even bigger disappointment of Henrik Larsson's injury-time goal to make it 2-2 in Cologne four years later. "I said: 'Boys, it's early in the tournament. Don't be so hard on yourself,'" Eriksson said. "I could have talked to an empty room." A draw tonight would leave England at risk of elimination by Ukraine on Tuesday.
There is something in the Swedish psyche which makes them love it when the English exude superiority. Before Steven Gerrard unwittingly stoked the fire yesterday, Anders Svensson had created one. "I don't think England has the same respect for us as they have for France," he said.
So Eriksson will flinch for the English nation when he reads Gerrard's comments today. "With all due respect to Sweden, they are not France," he said. Eriksson always sensed that superiority complex in his England players.
The problem for England is that the Swedes know the English game so well. Unsurprisingly for a man who succeeded in Swedish management by copying Hodgson's methods, Eriksson's method for playing Sweden is effectively the same as Hodgson's.
"Sweden like to play compact and press their opponents high up the pitch and because of that it is important that you move the ball quickly and with as few touches as possible," he said. "You also have to be careful when they have corners and free-kicks. Swedes are often big and strong. Make sure the 4-4-1-1 system is well organised. I will go as far as saying that is [currently] as tight as it can be."
Hamren said he would be looking for more set-pieces to get the best from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whom he said was "OK to play" despite a thigh injury.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he punishes England again," Eriksson said of the Milan player, in his column for the Expressen newspaper. "I wouldn't be surprised if Zlatan scores the goal that wins the game for Erik Hamren. That would silence Zlatan's critics in England. Maybe forever."
England, who have not beaten Sweden in seven competitive matches, at least have a manager who has a track record against them. Hodgson has won two and drawn two of four matches against the Swedes while managing Finland and Switzerland.
Hamren's attempts to move on from the Hodgson culture have been vexed ever since a 4-1 defeat by the Netherlands early in his reign, after which he tightened up and earned a 0-0 draw with Germany. Yet despite the Ukraine setback, he made no apologies for trying to modernise Swedish football.
"When you are working with football or anything you work you are always taking steps," he said. "You have to learn a lot about the past but mostly it is to deal with the life just now. I think when you are working with football or anything you are always taking steps. You can't always stay on the same platform. That's life, sometimes you take steps forwards, sometimes back."
Eriksson knows of Swedish desire to succeed where England are concerned, a constant through the changing years.
"I tried to get in to the [English] players' and the journalists' heads," he said. "Just to really get them to realise that Sweden isn't an easy opponent."Reuse content