Sweden came from behind twice to secure a point that takes them and England through to the last 16.
The 2-2 draw was arguably more beneficial to England, who now avoid hosts Germany in the next round, although their fitful performance is unlikely to cause many sleepless nights in the South American camp.
Moreover, the possible loss for the tournament of Michael Owen, who was carried off in the opening minute with what looked like a serious injury, has severely reduced England’s striking options. The immediate diagnosis was that Owen had twisted his knee, but coach Sven Goran Eriksson admitted after the game that the striker’s tournament may now be over.
Inevitably, the decision by Eriksson’s to travel to Germany with only four strikers, two of whom were carrying injuries and a third who was untested at this level, will come under fresh scrutiny.
Owen and Wayne Rooney started up front together for England against Sweden, as expected. Rooney was starting a game for the first time since breaking his foot on April 29. Steven Gerrard, who was one booking away from a ban, was rested with Owen Hargreaves replacing him.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was out, with Marcus Allback, having a point to prove after squandering numerous chances in the earlier games, taking his place for Sweden.
Within a minute of the kick-off England suffered a major setback when Owen collapsed to the floor after appearing to twist his knee. The Newcastle strikerwas carried off on a stretcher and his future participation at the finals looks in doubt. Peter Crouch, originally rested for this game, was forced to make an early appearance.
The loss of Owen did not appear to unduly hinder England’s attacking play and twice Frank Lampard went close with shots from distance. The midfielder was then set up by Rooney but the Chelsea midfielder miscued his header. Joe Cole, who was England’s brightest player in the opening twenty minutes, also went close for England with a fierce drive that just cleared the bar.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, Sweden were enjoying plenty of possession but they were unable to conjure up anything to threaten Robinson in the England goal.
Rooney produced a wonderful piece of skill to control a fifty yard pass from Beckham, but after skipping past one defender his shot was blocked by Mellberg.
England’s pressure finally told when Joe Cole produced a stunning opening goal. The Chelsea midfielder controlled the ball on his chest and smacked a wonderful dipping, swerving volley past Isaksson from thirty yards out.
Having lost their most likely source of goals in Owen, England had responded well and fully deserved their half-time lead. Sweden, meanwhile, were getting little joy out of the England back four, and in the absence of Ibrahimovic, they seemed short of attacking inspiration in the final third.
After the break Sweden were unrecognisable from the side that had ambled through the first half, and from the restart they finally began to exert some pressure on the England defence.
Lars Lagerback’s side wasted little time in drawing level when Allback connected with a Linderoth corner and his header flashed into the roof of the net off the head of Ashley Cole. Allback had the honour of scoring the 2000th goal in the history of the World Cup finals.
Moments later Sweden almost went ahead in identical circumstances. This time it was Larsson’s header which was deflected onto the bar by the arm of Robinson.
England’s problems were compounded shortly afterwards when Rio Ferdinand limped off to be replaced by Sol Campbell.
After looking in control in the first half, Eriksson’s team were now on the rack and shortly afterwards Sweden struck the bar again. The effort came from Mellberg who clipped the woodwork after England failed to clear a corner.
England’s vulnerability at set-pieces was again exposed with twenty minutes remaining when Kallstrom’s effort from the edge of the are was cleared off the line by the substitute Gerrard.
As the half wore on the game descended into the a scrappy affair until Joe Cole again made a decisive intervention when he made space for himself and clipped a deft chip to Gerrard who headed in at the far post. On their second half performance it was a lead England barely deserved, and it was a lead they were unable to retain.
In the final minute Campbell was unable to clear a long throw and as the ball cleared him Larsson and Mellberg connected with the ball simultaneously to flick the ball over Robinson to secure a deserved draw.
On this evidence neither side looks capable of threatening the fancied nations in the latter stages of the competition. The match was high on excitement but low on quality, and ultimately a draw was a fair result in an encounter that neither side deserved to win.
England: Robinson, A Cole, Ferdinand, Terry, Beckham, Lampard, Rooney, Owen, J Cole, Carragher, Hargreaves.
Subs used: Crouch 4 (for Owen), Campbell 56 (for Ferdinand), Gerrard 69 (for Rooney).
Bookings: Hargreaves 76.
Sweden: Isaksson, Mellberg, Lucic, Edman, Linderoth, Alexandersson, Ljungberg, Larsson, Kallstrom, Jonson, Allback.
Subs used: Wilhelmsson 54 (for Jonson), Elmander 74 (for Allback), Andersson 91 (for Linderoth)
Bookings: Alexandersson 83, Ljungberg 87
Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).
England: J Cole 34, Gerrard 85.
England: Allback 51, Larsson 90.