Coming into the game off the back of an impressive 2-1 win over USA, the number one ranked side in the world, last month, National Coach Hope Powell had urged her players to bring that level of performance into tonight's game and she will be delighted with what she saw at Kassam Stadium, home of Oxford United, particularly in the secomd half.
Sweden, ranked fifth in the world, enjoyed large spells of possession and hit the post in the first half, but England attacked with greater purpose and went ahead on 46 minutes through the head of Jill Scott. A Karen Carney penalty on 71 minutes sealed a win which will give the whole squad a great deal of confidence going into this summer's football jamboree.
Powell was forced into making two changes from the win over USA as knee injuries ruled out captain Faye White and midfielder Fara Williams. Sophie Bradley and Anita Asante were the respective replacements and Casey Stoney was the stand-in skipper.
Neither side were able to get a stranglehold on the game in the opening exchanges and it wasn't until the eleventh minute that the visitors fashioned the game's first real chance. Full-back Annica Svensson raided down the right and sent over a cross to the back post. Alex Scott could only half clear and Therese Sjogran struck the loose ball against the upright, with England ‘keeper Karen Bardsley beaten.
Moments later Lotta Schelin shot over the bar when she perhaps should have done better after Bardsley failed to claim a corner.
Sweden were beginning to assert their authority but, keen to redress the balance, Rachel Unitt forced Hedvig Lindahl into a fine save after the Swedish stopper fumbled Rachel Yankey's in-swinging corner. The Everton left-back slung her boot behind the ball from ten yards out but Lindahl had recovered and got down well to parry away.
England were beginning to settle, enjoying more of the ball and the space afforded to Alex Scott and Jess Clark down the right. But their forays forward had briefly a left a gap at the back which Sara Thunebro attempted to exploit. She sent in an angled drive through a crowd which Bardsley watched all the way before diving smartly to divert the ball for a corner.
With just under ten minutes of the half remaining, the England ‘keeper was called into action once again, as Linda Forsberg met Sjogran's corner sweetly on the volley and a combination of Bardsley and Alex Scott, covering on the line, denied the forward what would have been a well-taken goal.
England were by no means being outplayed but Sweden displayed a neat brand of possession football for the remainder of the half, which went some way to justifying why Powell was keen to face them on the eve of the World Cup. England had their own spells of possession and were more direct with their attacks but both sides went in goalless at the break.
But whatever Powell said at half-time must have registered because England went ahead less than two minutes into the second half. Yankey floated another corner into the box and Jill Scott rose above everyone to nod home.
Eniola Aluko was one of four changes made by Powell at the break and the New Jersey Sky Blue forward certainly made an impact. She won the corner from which England scored and she almost crafted a second just five minutes later. She latched onto a through ball by Jill Scott down the left channel, nutmegged Svensson and whipped a cross to the near post for Jess Clark, who was just put off by Linda Sembrant.
The game then lost some of its first-half flow, perhaps down to those four changes, until Sjogran attempted to puncture the game's lethargy with a firm shot from the edge of the box but Bardsley was behind it all the way. However, England had now wrestled the momentum from the Swedes and were the side very much on top.
The host's next best chance was created by two of those aforementioned substitutes, as Carney, on for Smith, slipped a through ball into the lively Aluko but her drive was saved by the legs of Lindahl. It mattered not, however, because those two linked up again in England's next attack, and as Carney attempted to shield the ball in the box she was felled by Sjogran, prompting referee Sarah Garratt to point to the spot.
Carney stepped up confidently and planted the ball right down the middle of the goal to give her side a two-goal cushion.
Powell made two more changes before full-time, bringing Siobhan Chamberlain on for Bardsley and debutant Fern Whelan on for the skipper and England saw the game out in relative comfort, a factor which will please the National Coach no end.
Achieving victories over two of the top five nations in the world leaves England well placed ahead of Germany 2011. Powell selects her squad on Friday 10 June, but she now has six weeks to fine-tune her charges ahead of the challenge that really matters.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty images