England were held to a 2-2 draw by Sweden here Tuesday to avoid a dreaded World Cup showdown with Germany in a nerve-jangling match overshadowed by an injury to striker Michael Owen. The result ensured England will face Ecuador in Stuttgart on Sunday while Sweden will now face hosts Germany in Munich.
A scrambled 90th-minute header from Henrik Larsson earned Sweden a share of the spoils but it was not enough to stop England from finishing top of Group A even if their 38-year winless streak against the Scandinavians continued.
Substitute Steven Gerrard appeared to have headed England's winner five minutes from time after Sweden's Marcus Allback had cancelled out Joe Cole's stunning first-half strike from long range. But Larsson steered home a long throw on 90 minutes to earn Sweden a precious point and guarantee their place in the last 16.
Despite producing some of their best football of the tournament for much of the game, England greeted the final whistle with relief after surviving a Swedish onslaught for much of the second half.
Sweden hit the woodwork and twice had shots cleared off the line as England suddenly looked horribly vulnerable from set-pieces. England's draw came at a cost however, with Owen stretchered off in agony in only the first minute with what looked like a serious injury after the Newcastle striker collapsed to the ground in pain.
"We won the group that's what counts," England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said. "What's clear is we have to defend better in the match against Ecuador."
Earlier, the return of Wayne Rooney in attack and the introduction of Owen Hargreaves in midfield paid off handsomely for Eriksson, giving England a much more balanced look from the outset. England's positive play got the goal it deserved on 36 minutes with Cole's stunning effort likely to go down as one of the goals of the tournament.
A headed clearance from Teddy Lucic fell to the Chelsea player outside the area, who chested to control and then uncorked a looping right foot volley that flew into the top corner. Isaksson got a hand to it but there was to be no denying Cole a fabulous strike.
Yet with England seemingly in control of the game, they suddenly found themselves scrambling almost from the start of the second half and Sweden equalized at the 51st minute. John Terry deflected a Henrik Larsson shot wide and from Tobias Linderoth's ensuing corner, FC Copenhagen striker Allback rose unchallenged to glance a header past Paul Robinson.
With England hanging on grimly, Eriksson withdrew Rooney from the fray for Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain stiffening the midfield as they switched to 4-5-1 with Crouch the lone striker. It was Gerrard who came to England's rescue within minutes, clearing a Kallstrom shot off the line after another well-worked Swedish corner.
And Gerrard, who had been rested to avoid picking up a second booking that would keep him out of the second round, looked to have earned the points for England after nodding in Cole's cross five minutes to time. Larsson had other ideas, however, and he brought the Swedes level in the 90th minute.