“Just to make my first appearance in such a high-profile arena it just means so much to me,” Walcott said. “It’s been a long time waiting and hopefully there’ll be more to come from me.”
Walcott was overlooked for his younger Arsenal teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in England’s opening game of the tournament, only coming on in injury time, and again began on the bench on Friday in favor of James Milner and Ashley Young. But after England wasted a halftime lead to fall behind 2-1 against a Sweden team desperate for a victory, coach Roy Hodgson turned to Walcott in the 61st minute.
Three minutes later, Walcott put England level with a swerving shot from distance after a corner was headed out to the speedy winger outside the area.
He followed that up by breaking into the area and sending a low cross to Welbeck, who flicked a backheel past a diving Andreas Isaksson in the 78th to give England its first win over Sweden in a competitive game in eight tries.
“It was a very clever finish,” Hodgson said. “It was goal worthy, in my opinion, of winning the game.”
England gets Wayne Rooney back in the next game after a suspension, but with Walcott and Andy Carroll both putting in strong performances, Hodgson will a tough decision as to who will be on the bench.
After a 1-1 draw against France, Friday’s victory may silence some of the critics who thought England had become too defensive-minded under Hodgson as it proved that it can score goals when it needs to.
“We felt, from the first game, that we wanted to pick it up a bit more offensively,” Walcott said. “And if you score three goals that’s the main thing.”
Sweden, for its part, let a second-half lead slip away for the second game in a row after falling 2-1 to Ukraine in its opener. While the Swedes put in a much-improved performance on Friday, they once again failed to shut their opponents down defensively.
“I thought we were a much better team than them,” Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic said. “We’ve taken the lead in two games now after 60 minutes and then lost it. … But today we played exactly the way we want to play.”
The French ended a six-year drought for a win at a major tournament by beating Ukraine 2-0 Friday in match delayed for nearly an hour because of a huge downpour, thunder and lightning.
Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scored early in the second half to help France’s to its first win in a major match since the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup.
“I hope the next win won’t take another six years because I will be long fired by then,” France coach Laurent Blanc said. “We dominated the game right from the start in terms of shots on target and possession.”
Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt and red card in the 2006 World Cup final brought the curtain down on France’s golden generation — and the French then failed to win a match at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
Blanc hopes Friday’s win is a sign France can finally be a contender again.
“We scored twice and could have had more,” Blanc said. “We have a lot of potential.”
Friday’s match at the Donbass Arena had only been going for five minutes when, the atrocious conditions forced the players off the field until the rain let up.
“I congratulated my players and the Ukrainian players,” Blanc said. “It was a good match with both teams trying to attack.”
For the French fans, it was finally something to cheer about after being eliminated in the group stage at both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008.
“France is probably one of the favorites,” Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin said through a translator. “Some players thought we were already in the quarterfinals. We will have a serious conversation with them. … It is not possible to win the first game and play the second like this.”
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