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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
England run out of steam again

By Phil McNulty
Chief Football writer in Cologne

Joe Cole
Cole looked to have set England on course for a comfortable win

Sweden are a bad habit England cannot kick - still 38 years without a win but grateful to top their World Cup group after a troubled evening in the fierce humidity of Cologne.

England's opening 45 minutes was the best they have produced in the tournament, playing with a tempo, verve and balance not seen in Germany so far.

And yet, as so often under Sven-Goran Eriksson, they ran out of steam desperately in the second half to allow Sweden to almost snatch the victory that would have denied England a last 16 game against Ecuador.

This was Sweden, so we should not have expected an easy ride. And so it proved.

It took Steven Gerrard's late header to ease growing tension in the England side and their massed ranks of support, but even then Sweden clung proudly to their unbeaten record thanks to Henrik Larsson's late equaliser.

It was a mystifying transformation as England offered little in the way of retaliation until Gerrard's header

BBC Sport's Phil McNulty

The last minutes saw the unedifying spectacle of Paul Robinson wasting time and Gerrard lashing the ball high into the stand - but it was job done for England on what turned into an uncomfortable night.

It was all a far cry from a vibrant first half where England finally delivered on their promises before this World Cup.

They showed reserves of character to recover from a devastating injury to Michael Owen in the opening seconds, playing with a determination well beyond them against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago.

And yet, with Sweden lurching under the weight of pressure, they somehow survived and prospered to frustrate Eriksson's side in the same old way they have done to England for the last 38 years.

Marcus Allback's equaliser after Joe Cole had put England ahead in such stunning fashion, was a classic counter-punch that no-one had seen coming in the first 51 minutes.

Cole and the unsung Owen Hargreaves were England's early driving forces.

Chelsea's Cole, so often criticised for over-elaboration, mixed his natural trickery with direct running to torment poor Niclas Alexandersson.

And with Hargreaves picking up the pieces and breaking up attacks in unfussy fashion, there was little sign of the trouble ahead.

Old failings

England could have wrapped up the victory by half-time, but could not kill off Lars Lagerback's team.

Sweden have a psychological hold on England, and it was all change after the break.

England's old failing of an inability to defend set pieces returned to haunt them, with Freddie Ljungberg and Olof Mellberg hitting the bar and Gerrard sweeping off the line from Kim Kallstrom.

It was a mystifying transformation as England offered little in the way of retaliation until Gerrard's header.

Owen's injury, and Rooney's understandable fatigue, left Eriksson's attacking options looking desperately threadbare.

Michael Owen
Owen's World Cup looks over

David Beckham was very much a peripheral figure, while the sight of Rio Ferdinand limping off injured was another worrying image in a second half full of them for Eriksson and his team.

Sweden, in contrast, were fresh after the break, making England look ponderous and hesitant in defence and a team very much on the back foot.

Ultimately, England were happy to claim a point in a match they should have won thanks to their early domination - top of the group but with worries far from over about their performances in Germany thus far.

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