Well, Iâ€™ve got to admit that I wasn’t expecting England to beat Spain â€“ earlier on today my brother in law sent me a text saying â€˜Xabi Alonso 132 passes, Scott Parker 37 passesâ€™ which made me laugh but before I replied with â€˜Frank Lampard 1, Spain 0â€™ I decided to be a bit more magnanimous.
The Spanish press seemed to think weâ€™d turned into the Italians (if that’s the case, it’s taken Fab nearly four years to complete his mission) which considering the Italian record over the last four decades isnâ€™t the worst thing that could happen. Although the win came in a friendly, itâ€™s the first time that weâ€™ve beaten Spain at Wembley for years and is definitely a morale booster even though itâ€™s hard to assess what victory might mean in the long term.
One of the more positive things that has been overlooked in the aftermath of the win over the reigning world champions is that we seem to have worked out how to keep clean sheets again â€“ both Spain and Gary Speed’s resurgent Wales side failed to score at Wembley (thanks to Rob Earnshaw there) â€“ and itâ€™ll be a positive note to end the year on if we can stop Sweden scoring. Itâ€™s unlikely, but Iâ€™ll come to why that might be the case in a minute.
Sweden are a different kettle of herrings to Spain: the last time we beat them in England was in May 1968 (a month after we last beat Spain at Wembley and a week before Manchester United beat Benfica in the European Cup Final) and since then weâ€™ve drawn all four games played here. So although itâ€™s probably fair to say that we wonâ€™t lose, a win isnâ€™t exactly a foregone conclusion. Our all time home record against Sweden is 2-4-1 which means another stalemate is a real possibility: that outcome looks even more likely when you remember that weâ€™ve not managed to keep three clean sheets at home for four years and tomorrowâ€™s opponents have scored in five of their seven visits to England.
Additionally, itâ€™s not that hard to see why weâ€™ve had so much trouble beating them over the years â€“ Sweden has produced some outstanding players who have had success in the UK over the last two decades, although for every Anders Limpar, Freddy Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson thereâ€™s a Thomas Brolin. Four of the current squad are playing in Britain, although only Jonas Olsson of West Brom and Sebastian Larsson of Sunderland played in Fridayâ€™s 2-0 defeat in Denmark: Olaf Mellberg and Johan Elmander will also be familiar to most fans. And then thereâ€™s Zlatan Ibrahimovic: another reason why a clean sheet might be a challenge.
Swedenâ€™s qualification record for major tournaments is eerily similar to ours â€“ theyâ€™ve qualified for five of the last six European Championships and three of the last five World Cups; theyâ€™ve also reached the final of the World Cup that they hosted, although they lost to Brazil. Sweden avoided the Euro 2012 playoffs having qualified for the Euros as best â€˜runners upâ€™; they also ended the Dutch record of having been unbeaten in 17 qualifiers for both the World Cup and European Championships. However, the overall the impression is that although the Swedes are formidable at home, they arenâ€™t as impressive on the road: having won all their home qualifiers, they were thrashed 4-1 in Holland and were beaten by a last minute goal in Budapest – which also shows how much the Hungarians have improved recently.
On to the first legs of the Euro play offs and barring unprecedented and monumental disasters for Croatia and Ireland then it looks as if theyâ€™ll be joining us in Poland and the Ukraine next summer.
Croatia were a goal up within five minutes on Friday night and had beaten Turkey by half time; having suffered World Cup playoff heartache a couple of years ago, things couldnâ€™t have gone any better for Ireland in Tallinn: two red cards for Estonia, four goals for Ireland and one foot in Poland or the Ukraine next summer. Tomas Sivok’s injury time goal for the Czech Republic looks as if it ended any chance of Montenegro qualifying for the finals and although Portugal drew in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cristiano Ronaldo and company are favourites to qualify.