KRAKOW (Reuters) – Roy Hodgson may wonder if he is looking into a footballing mirror in Kiev on Friday when he travels back to the future as England meet Sweden in their Euro 2012 Group D clash.
The new England manager, who began his long coaching career with a series of Swedish clubs, is fondly remembered by many of the Scandinavian nation’s fans as the unofficial godfather of their national team’s consistency and success.
His establishment in Sweden of an orthodox, if defensive, 4-4-2 system, based on the then-traditional England approach, was widely copied after he guided Malmo to the domestic championship in 1986 and 1988.
Having adopted a similar system, Sweden were beaten semi-finalists on home soil at Euro 92 and then finished third at the 1994 World Cup finals, achievements that followed Hodgson’s two four-year spells in a country where he is still respected.
But, like Swedish counterpart Erik Hamren, Hodgson knows that football is no respecter of age or reputations, especially when it is reduced to a close contest between two teams of similar strengths and styles who know each other well.
After their 1-1 draw with France in Donetsk, England have a point in the bank and will seek to improve and snatch a decisive victory. Sweden, defeated 2-1 by co-hosts Ukraine in Kiev, know they must win to keep alive hopes of reaching the last eight.
This suggests both sides will attack and an open game is in prospect, but lovers of beautiful football should be warned that this collision of similarities is more likely to resemble an English Premier League slug-fest than a purists’ fiesta.
The Swedes have never lost to England in a competitive fixture – though many have been dreary 0-0 draws – while the English may take heart from their 1-0 win at Wembley last November, their first against the Swedes since 1968.
Hodgson, however, believes he has the players and the know-how to end that spell of Swedish supremacy, even if he is forced to rotate his players with the final group game, against Ukraine in Donetsk next Tuesday, in mind.
"I will have to assess the freshness of my team and see whether they are able to do it again," said Hodgson this week.
"Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard are both over 30 and had to work really hard (against France). I’m not the only coach wondering, ‘Can they do it every four days?’"
In that light – and with no real injury concerns – Hodgson may bring in Jordan Henderson for Parker, alongside captain Gerrard, and leave out winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 18, as he seeks to preserve the balance in midfield.
"But," he added, "my gut feeling, after a good recovery day on Tuesday, a sensible training day on Wednesday and sensible recovery day on Thursday, is that it will be very hard for me to leave people out…"
Hodgson also knows that suspended striker Wayne Rooney will be available for the Ukraine game when he may be in a better position to make changes to his team lineup.
If all that gives Sweden few clues, it will make little difference to their approach as Hamren also considers consolidating his midfield by recalling veteran Anders Svensson.
He may also draft in Johan Elmander up front to give Zlatan Ibrahimovic more freedom to roam.
"We’re going to try to go a long way in this tournament, but now it’s cup matches," said Hamren. "It’s a cup match against England – it’s win or bust."
(Reporting By Tim Collings; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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