Sven Goran Eriksson's men looked set to end their 38 year drought of victories against Sweden until captain Olof Mellberg popped up in the box after a speculative throw in their last venture forward to tap in and tie the scores.
Just five minutes earlier substitute Steven Gerrard scored with a header after being left unmarked to send his side 2-1 up after Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole had opened the scoring in the first half.
Lars Lagerback had obviously delivered the right tonic at half time as his side took the game to their opponents with renewed vigour.
It paid almost immediate dividends when striker Marcus Allback rose for a corner and sent the ball crashing into the back of the net despite the best efforts of England left back Ashley Cole.
Allback's goal was the 2000th in World Cup Finals history.
The Swedes may have been unaware of that little piece of trivia but they did realise that England had defensive frailties off set pieces and they looked to exploit that with superb delivery from Kim Kallstrom and Tobais Linderoth.
Fly as he might Paul Robinson
can't stop Sweden's second
The Scandinavians had a number of great chances from corners.
On three successive corners England needed the post, a reflex save from goal keeper Paul Robinson and a goal line clearance from Gerrard to deny the men in yellow.
In the first half, England looked a far better side than the one that limped home against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago.
With 10 minutes remaining in the first stanza, a Swedish clearance could only go as far as midfielder Cole who, after controlling the ball with his chest, powered an unstoppable 35 yard volley into the back of the net to give his side a deserved lead.
The game had a horror start for the 1966 champions when Michael Owen crawled off the field after one minute as his knee buckled as he look to complete a pass.
The Newcastle striker will have scans tomorrow, but the immediate diagnosis did not look go.
Ol' King Cole
With Wayne Rooney up front England had a far more effective outlet for their midfield which looked more balanced with only one advanced midfielder.
However on 69 minutes, Eriksson withdrew a furious Rooney and replaced him with Gerrard, the move proving a decisive one.
England will now meet Ecuador in Stuttgart on Sunday, while Sweden take on hosts Germany the day before in Munich as the elimination rounds begin.