No joke, we can make a mockery of the Swedes
23:33 GMT, 14 June 2012
For this morning’s edition, Aftonbladet, the biggest selling daily newspaper in Scandinavia, has mocked up front pages of various British newspapers in the event of England’s certain defeat by Sweden.
‘L0-5ERS,’ says Aftonbladet’s imitation Daily Mail, which seems a tad optimistic considering that only one match between the teams has been won by a margin of more than two goals. It was on May 17, 1937 and went in England’s favour. ‘Smogas-bored,’ reads the cod Sun, which is really rather good, with a greater chance of accuracy considering that both teams seem to be putting much emphasis on scoring from set pieces.
Swede revenge: Aftonbladet's tongue-in-cheek prediction is for a 5-0 defeat for England tonight. The Swedes imagined how the Daily Mail (left) and The Sun would report that
There are too many scatological references in Aftonbladet’s take on tabloid culture to be truly accurate — the negative reaction to the ‘Norse manure’ headline in The Sun after defeat by Norway under Graham Taylor was a reminder that some jokes do not play as well over the breakfast table as they do in the laddish environment of the office — but nobody can claim Aftonbladet have not captured the zeitgeist at this tournament.
England in Ukraine are like the Manchester City of 10 years ago. They are the punchline, the butt, the pay-off to every gag. Somehow, a group of players that have lost two matches in close to two years have ended up as Euro 2012’s fall guys. Holland are embroiled in civil war, Sweden are firing balls at the bare backside of the reserve goalkeeper — and not particularly successfully, by the way — but mention England and a flicker of a smile plays across most lips.
Back at you: Our riposte foresees a very different outcome
The Football Association have managed expectations so successfully that most of Kiev expects the team bus to arrive at the Olympic Stadium to the music from Laurel and Hardy. Here come England. Di-dum-di-dum, dum-di-dum, didderly-dum, didderly-dum. Look, there’s manager Roy Hodgson in front with the horn, selling fresh fish.
Last week, on the eve of the opening match with France, some Gallic joker asked the England boss why anyone worried about his team at tournaments when they so often disappoint; now even the Swedes are cracking wise.
The 1-1 draw with France in the opening game, a serious result and performance if ever there was one, has done nothing to restore England’s credibility on the international stage. Prior to the match with Ukraine, France coach Laurent Blanc was still having fun at England’s expense.
‘We can’t repeat the first 30 minutes against England,’ he said. ‘If we had played against a really good side it would have been over.’ Frankly, the laughter continues to echo from that fourth German goal in Bloemfontein.
The Swedes, meanwhile, continue to look back to the 1992 edition of this tournament, recalling the match and headline that seemed to crystallise decades of English disappointment: Swedes 2 Turnips 1. No matter that the last result between the teams was an English victory in what proved to be Fabio Capello’s final game. Sweden now sees every meeting between the nations as inspiring another pratfall from the folk who claim to have bequeathed the game to the world.
Maybe it is these very English pretensions that are the root of such merriment. John Cleese mined his post-Monty Python career from the simple realisation that the taller and more pompous the man, the funnier his loss of decorum and dignity.
Brolin, Dahlin, Brolin… Brilliant: Barry Davies followed his “Where were the Germans But frankly, who cares” of Seoul 1988 with more seminal commentary four years later in Stockholm
England’s failure to beat Sweden in a single competitive match is therefore made more amusing by the fact that in each of those games, almost the entire English nation expected victory as sincerely as Basil Fawlty believes he is running an upmarket establishment.
The contradiction is most explicit in the perception of club and country. Sweden is obsessed with Premier League football, to the extent that Aftonbladet regularly devotes six or seven pages to the English game. ‘Sometimes more than is in your papers,’ says Peter Wennman, their UK correspondent. The national team, by comparison, are game for a laugh. Anxious not to think himself coach to a bunch of clowns, however, Hodgson insisted the problem was, if anything, too much respect.
‘I’d be surprised if teams aren’t taking England seriously,’ he said. ‘I think it’s more that in previous tournaments, we haven’t been able to live up to some very, very high expectations. I think the reputation of football in England, the famous names of the Premier League will always mean we are not taken lightly. Swedes spend a lot of time watching our Premier League and get extra motivated to beat an English team. They like it if they can show that these highly paid superstars are not better than their players.’
You'll get your chance, son: Roy Hodgson will unleash Wayne Rooney on Ukraine – but England must navigate Sweden first
The full glory of Aftonbladet’s parody of this newspaper’s ire, reads ‘This lousy eleven brings shame on England for generations to come after horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible performance.’ What chance is there of life imitating art Not a lot.
‘Sweden are not France,’ said Steven Gerrard, several times, emphasising a general mood that this is a group game England should win if they harbour serious intent to remain in this tournament beyond Tuesday’s meeting with Ukraine in Donetsk.
France, it seems, were there to be contained, Sweden there to be beaten. Do that and the group could be won, although a draw in the third game should be enough to progress.
Mercurial talent: Which Zlatan Ibrahimovic will turn up in Kiev
That would be an even break for Hodgson here, anything more an unexpected bonus; and either way respectability would be restored. Having made a habit of exiting tournaments in chaos, or vulnerable to familiar failings, an England team that beat their inferiors, stifled their superiors and made some small dent on the knockout stages would leave Hodgson in credit and win a few admirers. Whether the new manager can take it to the next level and command respect for England’s style of football is another matter.
The team should include Andy Carroll beside Danny Welbeck, with Ashley Young reverting to the left in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Not since the days of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey has an England side been sent out for a major match in such a conventional 4-4-2 system.
The emergence of Wayne Rooney as second striker changed the shape of Sven Goran Eriksson’s team and almost every permutation since has been a variation on a familiar theme. Hodgson’s grand plan is to go back to the future and to a time when England were taken seriously in tournaments. The ones they qualified for, anyway.