Even as Roy Hodgson prepares to unleash Andy Carroll on Sweden tonight, the England coach cannot help thinking about the impending return of Wayne Rooney.
In the knowledge seven of the last 11 goals Sweden have conceded were headers, including both in their defeat by Ukraine on Monday, it seems Carroll will join Danny Welbeck in attack as the Three Lions go for a more direct approach.
If the move succeeds, England would be within touching distance of a last-eight berth, with Rooney ready to return for the final game against Ukraine in Donetsk on Tuesday. “I am not worried about our attacking play,” said Hodgson. “We have the quality of players who can score and we have a world-class player of our own to bring back – and I know he is very anxious to get into the team.”
Such is the frequency with which Hodgson has spoken about Rooney, it seems certain his England team will be built around the Manchester United man, who could also be named vice captain, and understudy to skipper Steven Gerrard.
“I am satisfied with what I think we are achieving only three weeks into the job,” said Hodgson. “Maybe I can’t satisfy everyone and other people would like to see more.
“I am realistic and pragmatic. Five, six or seven training sessions into the job we are making a fist of it. I am sure we will get better. Just a simple thing like the return of Wayne Rooney will make us into a stronger team and a bigger threat.”
They must do without Rooney’s guile tonight though, hence Carroll’s likely inclusion in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It has also been suggested Theo Walcott will come into contention as England chase a first competitive victory against a Sweden outfit who could be backed by as many as 20,000 supporters. Once again, it will pit the enigma that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic against English opposition, with Hodgson not among the forward’s many critics. “He is an iconic figure in Sweden, where they are very much in awe of him,” said Hodgson. “His career record is quite incredible.
“Maybe on one or two of the times he has come to England he had not succeeded when he has been built up to. But I have seen quite a lot of him over the years – first of all in 2000 the year after Malmo had been relegated for the only time in their history. Twelve years ago, as a fairly young precocious talent, he made sure they got straight back up again.
“I thought he was going to be something special then and of course everything he has done since then has proved it.”
Meanwhile Sweden midfielder Sebastian Larsson knows his side need to improve on their opening performance. when they lost 2-1 to Ukraine. He said: “The game against Ukraine was not one of my better ones and we did not reach the level we were looking for, not during the first half.
“We didn’t get into the game and it was hard. Personally I feel strong and eager to play a good game against England and that is the key thing.
“We will try to reach the level we know we can – which didn’t happen against Ukraine.”