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Having failed to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament since 2006, Sweden’s run to the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup was a notable achievement especially given the squad lacked the star names of the past. Without a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Freddie Ljungberg or Henrik Larsson to be the focal point of their attack, Sweden relied on organisation and the defensive solidity of a veteran side being more than the sum of their parts.
However, much has changed since, and promising young attacking players are emerging. If they can maintain their defensive strength of 2018, Sweden may have enough quality in attack to be a genuine tournament dark horse.
Spain – Seville: Monday, June 14, 8pm
Slovakia – Saint Petersburg, Russia: Friday, June 18, 2pm
Poland – Saint Petersburg, Russia: Tuesday, June 23, 5pm
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Relatively easily in second behind Spain in their group, losing only one game and finishing ahead of a well-fancied Norway team containing Erling Haaland. Highlights of qualifying included 3-3 draw in Oslo where Sweden came back from 2-0 down and a 1-1 draw with Spain.
The 58-year-old Janne Andersson is an experienced manager with a very successful career in Swedish domestic football. He built IFK Norrkoping up from a side who had recently been promoted to Sweden’s top division into contenders before winning the title in 2015 in a five-year spell. This was Norrkoping’s first domestic title in 26 years and that achievement saw Andersson sought after for Sweden’s national team job in 2016.
Andersson oversaw Sweden’s best World Cup finish since the days of Tomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin in 1994 by playing a 4-4-2 and direct approach. Andersson maximised the abilities of a very limited and aging squad by making Sweden defensively well organised and hard to beat. It will be intriguing to see how much Andersson can coax out of this team with better forward players at his disposal.
Like 2018, Sweden will play with a centre-half pairing of Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof and Pontus Jansson of Brentford. Jansson’s aerial power compliments Lindelof’s excellent ball-playing ability and this should again be a strength for Sweden. They will play in front of an experienced goalkeeper in Robin Olsen of Everton. Zlatan and promising young Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak would have formed an exciting and extremely tall strike partnership as they did in Sweden’s recent qualifier victory over Kosovo, but Ibrahimovic’s recent injury means he will miss the tournament. Sweden will now have to choose between veteran Marcus Berg, Mainz’ Robin Quaison or the precociously talented Dejan Kulusevski.
Sweden’s full backs and central midfield are solid but unspectacular and are still reliant on 34-year-old former Celtic player Mikael Lustig and 35 year old Premier League and Championship journeyman Seb Larsson. Sweden have quality in the wide positions in midfield with the reliable Emil Forsberg of RB Leipzig, Kulusevski and Viktor Claesson of Krasnodar.
Victor Lindelof. A polarising figure among Manchester United fans, but he is an excellent passer and that will be important for a Swedish side that may lack creativity in midfield. He was a key part of Sweden’s defensive success in World Cup 2018 and he will again need to be at his best should they wish to get to the latter stages of this tournament.
ONE TO WATCH
Dejan Kulusevski. The 21 year old was born in Sweden to Macedonian parents whom he represented at youth level before deciding to play for his country of birth at senior level. His form for Parma in 2019/20 marked him out as one of the most gifted young players in Europe with 10 goals and nine assists. He won the award for best young player in Serie A and was signed by Juventus the following Summer for around €40m. He has been in and out of the Juventus team this season but is still regarded as a player of huge promise. Kulusevski can play in the wide positions in attack but his favoured position would be as a traditional creative N0.10.
Here’s all the key data on Sweden’s squad.
- Squads and statistics correct at time of data sheet creation.
Sweden will expect to qualify for the last 16 from Group E as at least a best third-placed side behind Poland and Spain and ahead of Slovakia. From there, they could reasonably hope to better their quarter-final finish in the 2018 before going down with a fight to one of the tournament favourites.
I expect Sweden to least match their performance of World Cup 2018 and the price looks a more than fair on them to do so.
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