Sweden World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions
Sweden World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network Sweden World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions
Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have retired from international football but this Sweden team have a fierce work ethic, strong defence and will play without pressure
This article is part of the Guardianâs 2018 World Cup Expertsâ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisa tions from the 32 countries who have qualified for Russia. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.Andreas Granqvist: Wigan flop who replaced Zlatan as Sweden's leader Read more
There was no pressure on Sweden to reach the World Cup. Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from international football after Euro 2016 and they were then drawn with France and the Netherlands in their World Cup qualifying group. However, Sweden finished second in their group and went on to eliminate Italy in the play-offs.
It was not pretty but it was effective and it is probably fair to say that the team have re-won the hearts of the Swedish people. For so many years it was all about Ibrahimovic but this team have gone back to the hard-working ethic that saw them qualify for a string of tournaments during the 2000s and reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2004.
True, then they had three players of outstanding quality â" Ibrahimovic, Fredrik Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson â" whereas this time only RB Leipzigâs Emil Forsberg comes close to being described as a âstarâ. And that is partly why their success has been so cheered back home. To witness the centre-back Andreas Granqvist (who had an unsuccessful spell at Wigan) and the midfielder Seb Larsson (previously in the Premier League but now in the Championship with Hull City) withstand the Italian onslaught in the second leg was magnificent.
In qualification Swedenâs main strength was the defence with Granqvist paired with Manchester Unitedâs Victor LindelÃ¶f in central defence. Granqvist was the leader and was voted Swedish player of the year in 2017, the first player to usurp Zlatan since 2006. The only real worry in defence is on the left side, where Sweden struggled at times in qualifying because of Forsbergâs attacking instincts exposed the left-back Ludwig Augustinsson .
In attack, it is important for the team to find Ola Toivonen, who likes to drop deep and then pick out the runs of Forsberg and Marcus Berg. Another attacking ploy for Sweden under the coach, Janne Andersson, is for the wingers, usually Forsberg and Viktor Claesson, to move inside to give the full-backs space to advanceWorld Cup 2018: complete guide to all 736 players Read more
Sweden lack creativity in central midfield, especially if Hamburgâs Albin Ekdal is injured, which he has been a lot recently. A front two of Toivonen and Berg lacks the charisma of Ibrahimovic but they do know each other well and have played together in various youth teams since they were 14 years old.
âWe have a philosophy that we are working with the players on and that does not change depending on who we are playing,â says Andersson. âBasically, we need to prepare well, be well organised and have a bloody good attitude in Russia.â
Probable st arting XI
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Viktor Claesson is not a big name but could be a revelation in Russia, where he plies his trade at Krasnodar. Very quick, he has scored regularly from midfield this season.
Which player is likely to disappoint?
It could be Ola Toivonen, who, despite being a key player for Sweden, does not feature regularly for his club side Toulouse. Will time finally catch up with the 31-year-old in Russia?
What is the realistic aim for Sweden at the World Cup?
Having German y in the group probably means that Sweden are fighting for second place. With Mexico and South Korea the other two teams in Group F, it is certainly not impossible to qualify but there is also no pressure on Sweden to do so. Reaching the last 16 would be a very good result.
AndrÃ©as Sundberg writes for fotbollskanalen.se.
Follow him on Twitter here.Topics
- World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network
- World Cup 2018
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