This wasn't supposed to happen. Apparently muzzled for the duration within Roy Hodgson's defensive system, and purveyors at this tournament of a strain of new defensive boredom, England forgot themselves for an hour in Kiev and produced a display of scintillatingly ragged Premier League attack against familiar opponents to turn an undeserved deficit 10 minutes after half-time into a thrilling 3-2 victory.
Of all the teams at Euro 2012, England had emerged from the opening group matches seeming to have a little touch of death about them. This was their chance to escape the tactical shell that against France saw them clinging to parity in the second half like ball-carriers in a medieval village game of smuggle-the-bladder. They took it with at times chaotic aplomb, producing their most forward-looking display under Hodgson to rearrange rather dramatically expectations around the squad. Watch out: this is the bit where everybody starts believing in improbable outcomes.
It is perhaps as much that forgotten attacking potency as the result that will send England to Donetsk in good heart. We knew they could defend, but the performance here will have surprised some of those watching, perhaps even the neutral supporters of Kiev: before kick-off David Taylor, Uefa Events head honcho, had admitted ticket sales for this match had been more sluggish than for any other to date. No doubt due in part to Ukraine playing in Donetsk on the same night, but also, perhaps, appropriate tribute to that reigning-in, the one-bank-of-eight defence that here was absent from the start.
As England kicked off in sombre dark blue there seemed something daringly retrograde about Hodgson's decision to play with two strikers. Spain have already played with none at all in this tournament. Russia have been employing a false nine who seems temperamentally opposed to actually sticking the ball in the net. But Sweden's apparent weakness in the air had been a theme of the week and frankly, it would have been a derogation of duty for Hodgson not to attempt to exploit it. And so England lined up with two tall men up front for the first time in recent memory.
The most striking note of positivity in the opening stages was the sight of Ashley Cole adopting a far more advanced role than he had against France, taking the chance to pressure the converted centre-half Andreas Granqvist. England were pushing slightly further upfield all over the pitch, albeit they were let down by an edginess in their passing as they approached goal. The switch of shape was in part to draw more in the attacking third of the pitch from Steven Gerrard, but here it was his excellent delivery from deep that provided a thrilling intervention from Andy Carroll. It has been a tournament of many headers and this was a lovely piece of striking technique, brilliantly timed and executed.
By half-time the match had begun to exhibit some of those familiar Premier League rhythms, with Sweden's own 4-4-1-1 creating a pleasing counterpoint to England's thrusts towards the flanks. Before this match Gerrard had suggested Sweden were a "traditionally strong" team, but under Erik Hamren they have sacrificed some solidity: like England, Sweden are a team who seem menaced by evidence of more subtle footballing evolution elsewhere. Plus, they have Zlatan Ibrahimovic to discombobulate them, here playing in his club position as a No10 behind Johan Elmander. On 33 minutes Ibrahimovic demonstrated the more elusive attacking presence England have lacked without Wayne Rooney, drifting forwards from his withdrawn role to jink past john Terry and shoot from the edge of the area.
Sweden's goal just after half-time owed little to Ibrahimovic beyond the confusion created by his blocked free-kick and scuffed shot on the rebound. England had deserved to be in the lead, reward for perhaps their most progressive approach. This was re-emphasised by the introduction of Theo Walcott on the right for James Milner as the game progressed into that final half hour of helter skelter thrust and counter thrust. Walcott's equaliser was a brilliantly clean strike, dipping beyond Isaksson having been struck with the top of the boot. His run to the byline and centre for Wellbeck's sublime, twisting instep-drag was thrilling. England will retreat again for Donetsk, but the best part of the Premier League – that unfenced sense of adventure – has at least shown its face at these championships.