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Advance without progress

At some point during Friday night's England v Sweden clash you could have been forgiven for thinking you were watching a Premier League game between two mid-table sides.

Wayne Rooney will return on TuesdayPhotograph: EPA
Wayne Rooney will return on TuesdayPhotograph: EPA

Lots of end-to-end stuff, mistakes and imprecision, physicality and grit- but also a directness that leads to goals and, ultimately, entertainment.

Not surprisingly the Premier League cheerleaders called it the "best game of the tournament". Some cited is as evidence of why it made perfect sense for Sky to pay 70% more than it previously had at last week's rights auction, despite the fact that, for most packages, they were the only serious bidder.

With 19 of the 22 in the starting line-ups either current or former Premier League players, it was perhaps inevitable that the game would take a certain turn. And it's a credit to Roy Hodgson that this is exactly what he prepared for.

Andy Carroll came in to provide the imposing, physical target up front and – crucially – an extra big man on the defensive end. Ashley Young was deputised to the flank to help cut out crosses into the box.

And the back four, which against France had sat so deep that Joe Hart could have tapped John Terry on the shoulder, played a higher, more reasonable line.

The result says it worked and England are a tiny baby step away from the quarter-finals: they just need to avoid defeat against Ukraine on Tuesday. The performance was more of a mixed bag, though, in Hodgson's defence, his personnel was limited and he had little time to prepare.

Without the benefit of the parked bus seen in the opener, this team can get the defensive jitters, as evidenced by Sweden's two goals. England's comeback was prompted by a fortuitous-looking belter from Theo Walcott (the kind of goal where, if he does it regularly, you say it's genius, if it's once in a blue moon, as is the case with the Arsenal winger, you lean towards luck) and a brilliant improvised flick from Danny Welbeck which, again, you don't want to call flukey but was simply so difficult to execute no reasonable person would expect it every game.

No matter. England are still alive and the good news is that Wayne Rooney has now served his suspension. If Hodgson follows his own script, it's not hard to predict what he'll do next. Carroll makes way and England go with Rooney just behind Welbeck, with Young cutting in from the left. The other eight guys, meanwhile, worry primarily about keeping Ukraine out. It's textbook stuff. Ukraine need the win; under Oleg Blokhin they have a tendency to stream forward and leave huge gaps behind them, so it makes sense to go with the counterattacking format. If England are in control, you throw on Walcott with his pace. If England are behind, there's Carroll to provide muscle and a Plan B.

That ought to be enough to squeeze into the quarter-finals. And that's where, barring some cataclysmic event, they'll face Spain. And where the journey will terminate, leaving you unsure whether England have actually made any kind of forward progress or whether this has been another tournament of treading water.

The fact that Harry Redknapp stuck around as Tottenham manager for a whole month after the end of the season suggests one of two things. Either Spurs are really bad at planning (logic would lead you to part way with your manager immediately after the season, giving you more time to plan for the future) or something happened in the past month to precipitate events.

If it's the former, there's no real cure. If it's the latter, as appears to be the case, then it's pretty clear something went badly wrong in Redknapp's contract negotiations. He had a year left, he was angling for a new deal and his demands were simply too high for Tottenham (in terms of control, more then money). And – faced with a choice between paying out another £8m-plus over two years for a guy who is 65, will likely make you hang on to your star players and, while he yields results, has no real track record of long-term team-building, or rolling the dice with someone else – they opted for the latter.

David Moyes, Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas-Boas have all been linked. All three could do a fine job, but there's another bonus as well. If Spurs enter negotiations with the caveat that Luka Modric will be sold for the best possible price but the new man will have the power to invest the proceeds as he sees fit, it could actually make the job more attractive and, crucially, relieve some of the pressure to match Redknapp's success straight away.

The reality is that Redknapp makes sense – a lot of sense – for a certain club in certain circumstances. And that was the case with Spurs until this season. More recently, however, it was a case of either spending more money and sticking with him until 2015 or beyond, or rebuilding. And there's a lot of logic in choosing the latter option.

Spain are still on track for their date with destiny – becoming the first national side to win three major championships in a row – provided they don't lose tomorrow night against Croatia. The question is whether the man to lead the line will be Fernando Torres.

The Chelsea striker got the start against the Republic of Ireland and notched two goals, but, frankly, against that level of opposition, you can't really read too much into it. Was his brace against the Irish the confidence-builder that allows him to regain his mojo? Or was it a meaningless exercise against a doomed side, with the old gremlins likely to reappear against tougher sides?

Del Bosque believes that, against the toughest opponents, Spain are best served with the strikerless system which lined up against Italy.

Unless, of course, the real Torres is available. Think of tomorrow night as another audition in search of the 2007/08 model. Unless he turns back the clock, you could well see Spain going with a different option up front for the quarter-finals.

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