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FOOTBALL

England come top after Sweden draw

story.jcole.jpg
Cole celebrates his wonder strike as England finished top of Group B.

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COLOGNE, Germany -- A scrappy last-minute goal from Henrik Larsson saw Sweden draw 2-2 with England in Group B -- a result that sees them go through to play hosts Germany in the last 16 with group winners England facing Ecuador.

England, who lost striker Michael Owen to a knee injury after just two minutes, took the lead with a stunning 34th minute volley from Joe Cole.

Sweden levelled with a Marcus Allback header in the 51st minute but Steven Gerrard put England back in front with a header from a Cole cross four minutes from time.

However, Larsson brought the scores level again after a long throw deceived the England defence.

England were rattled by the sight of Owen leaving on a stretcher and struggled to keep possession for the opening 20 minutes against a combative Sweden side, who have not lost to them in 12 matches stretching back 38 years.

"We did well in the first half but then Sweden did better in the second half and they scored from two set pieces," said England's Swedish coach Sven-Goran Erikssson. "Of course, we have to do better because we cannot concede goals like that."

Substitute Gerrard added: "The most important thing today was to top the group. We wanted to keep the same tempo in the second half. From the bench it looked really difficult because they were pushing for the goal."

Sweden midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg agreed that it was a tough match. "It was quite a tight game but we can now look forward to facing Germany."

Ljungberg was a threatening early presence while defender Teddy Lucic sent in a superb angled drive from a corner that was charged down by Frank Lampard.

Wayne Rooney, in his first World Cup start after a substitutes' appearance in last week's 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, helped redress the balance with some nice passes and a shot that ricocheted off Lucic.

However, that was nothing compared to the subsequent candidate for one of the goals of the tournament.

Cole controlled a headed clearance by Niclas Alexandersson with his chest and struck a long-range shot that keeper Andreas Isaksson could only touch on to the inside of his post as it flew in.

Sweden equalised early in the second half when Tobias Linderoth curled over a corner from the right and Allback's glancing header beat keeper Paul Robinson and Ashley Cole on the line.

Sweden were nearly 2-1 up minutes later when Ljungberg's header was parried on to the underside of the bar by Robinson in a goalmouth melee.

Eriksson replaced Rio Ferdinand with Sol Campbell in central defence but the next chance fell to Sweden when captain Olof Mellberg hit the top of the bar.

Sweden had a nervous England side on the ropes and were clearly looking to deliver the knockout blow, prompting Eriksson to swap Rooney for Gerrard.

Gerrard promptly cleared off the line with his first touch after a Kim Kallstrom effort and then put England ahead in the 86th minute with a firm header from a far post Cole cross.

But the drama was not over as Larsson got the final touch on a long throw by Erik Edman in the 90th to salvage a draw and Sweden's unbeaten run against England stretching back to 1968.

"We didn't defend well at set pieces. We will have to work on that before the next game. Sweden are very strong at that but anyhow, we have to do that better in the future," Eriksson added.

"But the most important thing was to win the group and I'm very happy about that. That's what we wanted to do."

Asked if Owen would now be out for the rest of the tournament, Eriksson said: "Maybe, I hope not but it doesn't look good at all."

Gerrard added: "He's really down. We need to support him. It's not looking good."

Owen, who will have a scan on Wednesday, fell awkwardly and twisted his right knee as he went down, forcing Eriksson to send on Peter Crouch as a substitute.

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback said England were the better team in the first half when they took a 1-0 lead through Cole's magnificent volley but felt his side dominated the second period.

"England played very well in the first half," Lagerback said. "We wanted to win the ball too early and lost many one-on-one situations. It was better in the second half.

"We almost deserved three points. We were the better team in the second half."

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