reports from Elland Road
England's muddied oafs last night treated the Leeds public to a truly unbelievable performance, one more usually associated with the flannelled fools currently playing across the city at Headingley.
For years the cricketers have made a habit of veering wildly between the inspirational and the unacceptable. Last night the footballers followed suit, except they got the whole repertoire into 90 minutes, not a summer.
Having gone behind to two Hakan Mild goals within 38 minutes, England came back through Teddy Sheringham a minute before the interval. But within 25 seconds of the restart, they were two down again, to Kennet Andersson.
At this stage, England looked bound for their worst home defeat since West Germany's 3-1 win at Wembley 23 years ago. Indeed, a worse defeat loomed as Sweden looked likely to score every time they went forward. Instead - and incredibly - it was England who did so, twice in the last two minutes.
The key was Paul Gascoigne, whose 63rd-minute entry for John Barnes had been loudly acclaimed. With a minute to go he won a fortunate free-kick on the left, took it himself, and found the head of David Platt at the far post. It was Platt's 26th goal for England, taking him level with Bryan Robson in 36 fewer games.
However, Gascoigne was accused by the Swedish coach, Tommy Svensson, of elbowing Magnus Erlingmark in the face prior to the goal, breaking his nose. "I am absolutely gutted," Gascoigne said. "I didn't mean it."
Then came Darren Anderton's third for England. Graeme Le Saux's long ball from the left was neatly headed on by Sheringham and Alan Shearer to Anderton. He hit a stunning volley that appeared to go in off both posts.
It was a remarkable recovery, but it was not deserved. England, although often promising in attack, were a shambles in defence. It was the first time an England side had conceded three goals since the European Championship of 1988. The experiment of playing Barnes as the midfield anchor was not a success. He was booed here, as he is at Wembley, and may now have played his last game for England.
Sheringham, however, did enough to suggest he should be persevered with. He appears to work as well with Shearer as anyone; he found good space, used the ball well, and took his goal with considerable skill. It was clearly a relief to him; it was his first goal in eight England games and followed a poor miss.
Colin Cooper, making his debut in central defence, was less impressive, although the lack of cover in front of him and the lack of fitness of Gary Pallister alongside made it an unfair test.
The crowd came out of the evening best of all. Although not full, Elland Road was a more passionate place than Wembley - and also a more patient one. The first chant of "what a load of rubbish" did not come until five minutes from the end; at Wembley it would have begun on the hour.
Initially there seemed plenty to cheer. Shearer brought a sharp save from Thomas Ravelli with a first-minute volley and Anderton and Barnes had shots blocked.
But Sweden, too, had looked sharp and Tim Flowers was twice in early action. A good save from Andersson, after Platt had given the ball away, had been preceded by a sharp one from Niklas Gudmundsson's volley. He had been found in space on the left by Andersson after Warren Barton had been drawn out of position.
The full-back escaped that time, but on 11 minutes he was punished. The ball was fed into Henrik Larsson who beat Cooper, and seeing Barton had again been sucked into the centre, laid the ball out to Gudmundsson. Flowers made an excellent save from his fierce shot, but the ball rebounded to Mild, whose mis-hit shot sneaked in.
England rallied well. Sheringham should have levelled from Peter Beardsley's cross and both Platt and Shearer went close. But on 38 minutes, Gary Sundgren was allowed to run deep into the England half unchallenged, Flowers fumbled his 25-yard shot, and Mild tapped in the rebound.
Sheringham half-volleyed a neat goal after the ball had spun high into the air following an Anderton tackle, but then Andersson was allowed to run unmarked through the heart of the England defence before coolly chipping Flowers.
England were shapeless and despairing, but Gascoigne gave them heart and some poise. Their late goals gave Terry Venables relief, but with the European Championship kicking off a year to the day yesterday, he will not be happy with the performance or the result. After all, Sweden have already drawn 3-3 away this season - in Cyprus.
ENGLAND (4-4-2): Flowers (Blackburn); Barton (Newcastle), Cooper (Nottingham Forest), Pallister (Manchester United), Le Saux (Blackburn); Anderton (Tottenham), Barnes (Liverpool), Platt (Sampdoria), Beardsley (Newcastle); Shearer (Blackburn), Sheringham (Tottenham). Substitutes: Gascoigne (Lazio) for Barnes, 63; Barmby (Tottenham) for Beardsley, 63; Scales (Liverpool) for Pallister, 80.
SWEDEN (4-4-2): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); Sundgren (AIK Solna), Lucic (Vastra Frolunda), Bjorklund (IFK Gothenburg), Kamark (IFK Gothenburg); Alexandersson (Halmstads), Mild (Servette), Erlingmark (IFK Gothenburg), Gudmundsson (Halmstads); Larsson (Feyenoord), K Andersson (Caen). Substitutes: Lidman (AIK Solna) for K Andersson, 84; O Andersson (AIK Solna) for Erlingmark, 89.
Referee: L Mottram (Scotland).
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