A view to a thrill?
COLOGNE, Stadion Koln -- Given the media furore surrounding ticket security for the 2006 World Cup it was with some trepidation and fear of reprisal that I decided to try and blag my way into the England v Sweden group decider in Cologne on Tuesday night.
This is not normal recourse you understand, but FIFA had granted my media accreditation but bungled my match ticket. The FIFA official in Media Centre assured me there was no way I was going to get a ticket, on stand-by or otherwise.
A cheeky inquiry about the chances of scaling the fence didn't go down too well and when I asked where else my pass would allow me to wander his answer was simple: "Nowhere! But you can try. You never know!"
On my dejected walk out of the stadium complex towards one of the three big screens the city had erected for the other ticketless thousands I decided to try my luck at getting access to the stadium.
My accreditation got me through the first line of security, body pat downs and metal detectors and then a timely goal in the Germany game allowed me to saunter into the stands unnoticed by the few officials scattered about watching the hosts beat Ecuador on TV.
Whilst awaiting discovery and listening to the rehearsal of announcements and national anthems (complete with stand-in team and mascots) four hours passed and following a bout of hastily conducted musical chairs with latecomers to the media stand the game was on.
Surrounded by a gaggle of equally desperate snoops up in the gantry area it was difficult to look nonchalant as England easily out played the Swedes and took a deserved lead through a Joe Cole wonder strike before the break.
England's play deserved more, but an impressive performance from the much-criticised Owen Hargreaves in the anchor role helped smooth over the lack of another goal.
The use of a holding player and the return of Wayne Rooney to the starting line-up had certainly helped England perform to a higher level and the half-time chit chat between the fans was hugely optimistic.
However, after being shuffled off to another restricted view during the interval by possibly the only official who had not entered into the spirit of things in watching the game, it was difficult to see the second-half behind a score of 'Zlatan' shirted Swedes and St George top-hat bedecked Englanders, and just as well as England duly failed to turn up.
Marcus Allback headed Sweden level after England had failed to deal with a series of corners and set pieces - as predicted by Sweden coach Lars Lagerback in his pre-match comments - and Sol Campbell replaced Rio Ferdinand to shore up the defence before Steven Gerrard headed England into an unlikely lead late on.
With the 'top-hats' still consoling their new found brothers the 'Zlatans' (their idol was out injured by the way), Sweden scored a deserved equaliser in the dying seconds after hitting both crossbar and post in previous attacks.
The full-time whistle blew, the scoreline 2-2, and England again failed to beat Sweden - a feat they haven't managed since 1968 - but still managed to top the group. The final score was as predictable as England's performance: excellent in the first-half and poor in the second.
However, the only problem to really vex England manager Sven Goran Eriksson was what looked like a bad injury to Michael Owen. The Newcastle striker was stretchered off in the first minute, but even the absence of the out-of-form forward forcibly solves Eriksson's selection problem now Rooney is fit.
The Manchester United striker should partner Peter Crouch in England's match with Ecuador in the last 16, and despite Hargreaves' excellent performance he will surely find himself on the bench as the anchorman role is once again discarded. Gerrard and Frank Lampard will have yet another chance to gel in the centre of midfield.
England did the job they needed to do in the Stadion Koln, but nothing more. However, it was good to see the England fans wishing Sweden all the best against Germany... in fact it was a miracle to see the game at all.
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