By Tom Gardner, Chris Parsons and Christian Gysin
Danny Welbeck, the scorer of England's winning goal, celebrates with fellow-goalscorer Andy Carroll after the goal which put the Three Lions on course for a priceless Euro 2012 win
England were tonight on the verge of qualifying for the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 after beating Sweden on a day when torrential rain played havoc with the tournament.
On a dramatic day of football where their crunch encounter was delayed by 15 minutes due to a thunder storm, Roy Hodgson's men came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 and claim a valuable win in front of 12 million who tuned in across Britain and 5,000 fans who made the trip to Kiev.
The Three Lions had their game in Kiev put back by 15 minutes following a torrential storm which delayed the other group game between France and Ukraine in Donetsk.
The memorable victory means that a draw against co-hosts Ukraine will guarantee England a passage into the Euro 2012 quarter-finals - where they could meet reigning world and European champions Spain.
Danny cool: Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck's composed backheel finish gave England the lead with 15 minutes to go
Back level: Theo Walcott got England back on terms in an incident-packed second half to make the score 2-2
Flat pack four: Sweden's defence can only stand and watch as Andy Carroll towers above them to head England into a 23rd minute 1-0 lead
Celebration time: The Liverpool striker, the most expensive British footballer of all time, wheels away after givign England the lead
Leading the line: Andy Carroll, who was playing his first competitive match for England, slides on his knees after his powerful header put Roy Hodgson's men 1-0 in front
In a game which see-sawed one way and then another Roy Hodgson’s men were seemingly in control of the game at half time having taken a 23rd minute lead through an Andy Carroll header.
But Sweden struck back with two goals from defender Olof Mellberg to lead 2-1 with only half an hour remaining to leave a TV audience of more than 12 million at home - and thousands of England fans in the Ukraine - praying for a miracle.
Salvation came in the shape of Arsenal’s Theo Walcott who fired home in the 64th minute - just three minutes after coming on as a second half substitute.
Loud and proud: The travelling army of England fans may have been outnumbered by their Swedish counterparts, but were still in fine voice in Kiev
Happy and glorious: The England fans in the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, were in fine voice throughout
England 'till they die: Fans did their best to show their true colours and support for the Three Lions in Ukraine during the game
Hands held high: A female fan got into the spirit of things in the Walkabout, Birmingham, by displaying her national pride on her t-shirt, while chaotic scenes greeted England's third goal in Coach and Horses, in Ashbourne, Derbyshire
Fans in Newcastle also needed no second invitation to join in the celebrations once England opened the scoring
Rock and roll star: Noel Gallagher was one of the famous faces who also made the journey to support England, along with a flag of his beloved Manchester City
Walcott then turned provider in the 78th minute with a cross which was back heeled into the net by Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck to make it 3-2 for England in front of 5,000 ecstatic travelling fans
The result means that England can afford to draw with Ukraine in Donetsk next Tuesday - and still secure a place in the quarter finals of the tournament.
It was the first time England have beaten Sweden in a competitive fixture and last night fans praised the grit of the team after going behind.
England fan David Steele, 35, from Folkestone, Kent, praised manager Roy Hodgson as he left the Olympic stadium and said:‘The manager got the substitutions right and now we have great chance to move on.
Rollercoaster of emotions: England manager Roy Hodgson was put through the wringer by his team, but they eventually pulled through to claim a valuable win, which the boss greeted with an understated fist pump (right)
Level pegging: England had their lead snatched back when Olof Mellberg headed Sweden's equaliser
On the back foot: The rollercoaster game continued when Mellberg again rose highest to give Sweden the lead
'It was a nail biting night though. Especially after we went behind with only thirty minutes left.’
Earlier on, the 5pm fixture today between France and Ukraine - the two other teams in England's group - had to be called to a halt after just four minutes as sheets of unrelenting rain and loud claps of thunder and lightning hit the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine.
With parts of the pitch underwater and the players forced to leave the field barely five minutes into the game, there were initial fears the game would be postponed altogether and rearranged for the following day at the same time.
But within an hour the hazardous weather had thankfully relented in Donetsk, allowing officials to get the game underway again at 6pm BST.
The moment the heavens opened: Ukrainian fans prepare to look for cover from the wet conditions as their game against France was suspended just after 5pm today
Downpour: France midfielder Samir Nasri competes for ball in truly dire conditions against Ukrainian defender Vyacheslav Shevchuk, seconds before officials suspended the game
Marching orders: Although players were told to leave the Donbass Arena pitch, an inspection by officials and easing of the rain allowed the game to get going again at 6pm BST
Rain stops play: A Ukranian fan is defiant in the face of the weather onslaught, as officials looked to get the match going again
Lighting up the sky: Forks of lightning illuminate the Donetsk sky above the Donbass Arena, as fans could initially do nothing but sit away from the rain waiting for the game to get underway again
Calm after the storm: The match was restarted at around 6pm BST when the weather subsided, although the early evening conditions left this spectacular cloud over the Donbass Arena.
Cruise control: The French adapted best to the inclement weather conditions once the game got going again, taking the lead through Jeremy Menez
The unprecedented conditions started a dramatic day at the tournament, as millions of fans meanwhile cheered England on to victory over Sweden.
Expectations had run high ahead of the tie - despite England never beating their Scandinavian opposition in a competitive match.
The pre-match tension and excitement in Kiev threatened to boil over before the game however, as groups of England and Sweden fans squared up to each other in the Ukranian city centre's 'Fan Zone'.
While there was not a serious outbreak of violence, fans from both countries sang increasingly provocative songs and became involved in pushing and shoving matches as supporters taunted one another in the Ukrainian capital’s main square.
Lines of fans were separated by police and stewards as they shouted and threw plastic beer glasses at each other.
Earlier in the afternoon there had been a carnival atmosphere as British and Swedish police patrolled the streets together and posed for photographs with fans.
However, as kick-off approached the atmosphere became more tense and charged.
Face-off: An England fan and a Swedish fan square off as bad-tempered exchanges in Kiev threatened to spill over into violence
Ugly scenes: A Sweden fan launches an empty plastic bottle across a crowded road as the two sets of fans continued to antagonise each other
Restrained: A heavy security presence in Ukraine helped minimise trouble in Kiev, with no actual incidents of violence despite the tension and antagonistic behaviour
A travelling England fan swipes the hat of a security worker as officials did their best to restore order in Kiev city centre and keep the two sets of supporters at arms length
In the lead-up to the game, the England team, which has made great efforts to paint themselves as the tournament’s underdogs after years of failure, have ramped up hope of coming away with a win.
England are now at odds of 2/7 with bookmakers to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Rory Jiwani, frm StanJames.com, said: 'The result was exactly what was required but England looked anything but assured, especially in defence.
'Defeat was on the cards until Theo Walcott's introduction and Sweden are clearly one of the poorest teams in the competition.
'The win means Roy Hodgson's men only need a draw against Ukraine to qualify and we make them 2/7 to get out of Group D.'
But the Swedish press have not missed a chance to have a cheeky swipe at the opposition ahead of the Group D match, due for a 7.45pm kick off at Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine.
This morning's edition of the country's biggest selling daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, mocked up front pages of various British newspapers, including the Daily Mail, predicting a crushing victory over England.
Predictions: Sweden's biggest selling newspaper Aftonbladet mocked up front pages of how The Sun and the Daily Mail might cover a predicted England loss
But the mounting tensions do not seem to have daunted an optimistic captain Steven Gerrard.
He told a press conference yesterday: ‘With all due respect, they are not France so I think we can be a bit more bold and get at the Swedes a bit more. I’m really happy with the start we’ve made.
‘We’ve left ourselves a good platform to build on and I am confident we can beat them.’
And the upbeat tone from the team seems to have buoyed spirits among travelling England fans - expected to be outnumber four to one by Sweden's 20,000 supporters - who have made the 1,500 mile journey to Ukraine ahead of tonight's big game.
They prepared for the clash by taking on their counterparts in a singing contest.
Rowdy fans lined up opposite each other in Kiev, Ukraine, to belt out songs and and drink in the pouring rain.
Hundreds of noisy supporters - wearing their countries' colours of red and white, and yellow and blue, were getting in the mood for this evening's key Euro 2012 clash as they enjoyed the fun in the fan zone.
Security personnel struggled to keep both sets of fans apart as the chanting became more vociferous.
But the atmosphere was generally good natured, with the fans choosing to hug each other rather than throw punches after spending all day drinking ahead of the match.
At one point thunder and lightning sent thousands of supporters - who were watching Spain play Ireland on big screens - scurrying for shelter.
But a number of the England fans ignored the horrendous downpour, removed their shirts and sang ‘let's all have a disco’.
Thousands more Three Lions supporters are expected to pour into Kiev today, although they will still be heavily outnumbered by the Swedes.
An estimated 20,000 fans from Scandinavia have travelled to Ukraine, compared to just 5,000 from England.
Support: England fan Jolanta Hillier and Marion Persson from Malmo soak up the pre-match atmosphere in Kiev
Friendly banter: England and Sweden soccer fans go head-to-head in the fan zone in Kiev this afternoon
Ready for the fray: English fans dressed as medieval knights take tot he streets of downtown Kiev as they look forward to this evening's game
International relations: Despite the threat of violence, groups of England and Sweden fans had largely mingled and got on well together this afternoon in Kiev
Game on: This group of fans, who had travelled from Bristol, enjoy a game of football in the main square in Krakow
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Roy's Boys thunder to victory against Sweden.... but force England fans to sweat after players wobble and rainstorm delays Euro 2012 clash
By Tom Gardner, Chris Parsons and Christian Gysin