For Sweden, there’s more than possible elimination from Group D on the cards here. Playing Roy Hodgson’s England will, for the Swedes, be a titanic psychological battle against everything they know, against their own national history – against themselves. Let me explain.
Our Roy made his name in Sweden in the 1970s and 80s. He arrived in 1976 at Halmstad, who were relegation favourites in the top division. Roy introduced them to concepts unknown in Swedish football: the 4-4-2 formation, wing play, defending deep with two banks of four, every man knowing his job and his position. Halmstad instantly won the league. In 1985, Roy took over at Malmo and won the title five years running.
Roy had basically invented Swedish football. When the Swedes came third at the 1994 World Cup, Roy got a lot of the credit even though he was there managing Switzerland. Sweden kept playing the Roy way until a couple of years ago, when present coach Erik Hamren brought in a modern, more attacking style. It’s had mixed results, notably their capitulation against Ukraine on Monday.
Now the Swedes face their former guru. It’s like the Karate Kid getting a dodgy new sensei, then finding himself up against Mr Miyagi. It’s Shredder versus Splinter. Obi-Wan versus Yoda. Amy Childs versus Jordan.
Even those comparisons don’t cut it. Roy himself called the Halmstad triumph a “water into wine” job, and was known in Sweden as the nicest man in the world. So what we’re talking about here is, essentially, 11 disciples playing against a team managed by Jesus.
COME AND HAVE A GO: Roy got a result against France the Roy way: two banks of four, every man knowing his position etc. But it wasn’t much fun and England conceded when Joe Hart was beaten at his near post, largely because he had two banks of four blocking his view. Roy’s expected to attack the Swedes, with walking Liverpool lamp-post Andy Carroll joining the front line.
SWEDISH MEATBALLS: Embarrassing photos of reserve keeper Johan Wiland’s nude buttocks – they were being used as a target in training – are just a hint of the unrest in the Swedish camp. Their pathetic showing against Ukraine has got them all arguing against each other and unsure of how to approach the next match. It’s like they’re England or something.
PREDICTION: Roy puts the hex on the Swedes, Andy Carroll is unplayable and England win 2-0.