Sweden v England, June 15, 7.45pm

icon 2underdogsJune 15 ~ There was an almost sociological significance to the shift between Sweden coach Erik Hamren and his predecessor, Lars Lagerback. Hamren sold himself as the besuited incarnation of cavalier, European-style football, in stark contrast to Lagerback's pragmatic, welfare-state personality. A lot of Swedes tended to go along with it, especially as it seemed that Hamren had solved Swedish football's Catch 22, managing to integrate superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic into the team. However, after our pathetic performance in the opening game against Ukraine, the backlash is in full force. 

Ibrahimovic not picking up Andriy Shevchenko and Mikael Lustig's failure to cover his post before the corner that resulted in Ukraine's second goal became symbols of a New Sweden that was every bit as inept as the old one.

The generally panic-stricken behaviour of the players made a mockery of Hamren's pompous rhetoric about the new, virile team where players went about with their chests puffed out. The young players on the team were flagrantly intimidated by the occasion, while captain Ibrahimovic added little more than angry rebukes to encourage his team-mates.

It is a fine irony that this England team is coached by Lagerback's old mentor Roy Hodgson, who more or less created our old football ways during his period in Sweden in the 1970s. Until now, we have been pretty certain of our capability to at least draw with England, knowing that the English would charge mindlessly ahead for 60 minutes and then run out of steam.

Now, Swedish football columnists point out that Hodgson's England may not be a joy to watch, but they will be far harder for us to deal with the old, gung-ho brand. We fear Hodgson far more than any of the players in this less than star-studded England. Many of us feel that his avuncular, intelligent personality would be far more suited to our national temperament than the present Swedish management.

But there is a nice final twist: our performance against Ukraine was so hilariously bad that England, it is felt, can hardly fail to revert to their old ways and underestimate us. The "bumgate" shambles, when the Swedish team was photographed firing footballs at the naked arse of reserve goalkeeper Johan Wiland in a training session, leading Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to issue a solemn rebuke, is hopefully another part of this general strategy. Before the England game, we are frantically trying to regain underdog status - it is the only one we are truly comfortable with. Jesper Högström

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