The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Sweden

Sweden National Team

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Sweden

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 6-1-3
Current FIFA World Ranking (May 2018) – 23rd
World Cup 2014 Finish – DNQ
Russia 2018 Group F (Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea)
Formation – 4-4-2 ‘double 6’
Strengths – Physical, High Energy, Good from setpieces
Weaknesses – Can get easily caught on counter while in attack, can play very narrow
Major Threats – Emil Forsberg, Victor Lindelhof, Marcus Berg

The post-Zlatan era begins! Sweden have been the ‘Zlatan & the boys band’ at every major tournament for years. Even now, this group have not been free of the Zlatan hype, as he ‘threatened’ to make a comeback to the squad for Russia but that’s been shut down and Sweden are an arguably stronger unit now. Janne Andersson’s men will try to prove there’s life after ‘god’.
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Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

The SvFF will expect the team to advance to the knockout phase in group they’ll consider relatively easy. Sure, the defending champions are in the group but the Swede federation will feel like they can get the better of South Korea and Mexico.


DEFENSE:

The back four of Sweden has a great mix of youth and experience with one underlying quality…physicality. Captain Andreas Granqvist is a grizzled vet with 70 caps for the national team and he pairs with Manchester United Victor Lindelhof who has less than 20 caps to his name. One guy is 33, the other is ten years younger yet both centerbacks bring a strength and seamlessness that makes Sweden’s central defending a thorough area of strength. EPL fans are already somewhat familiar with Lindelhof, a Vidic-like warrior who will dive into tackles and fight and scrape for every bit of position with the opposing attacker. Grandvist is the current Swedish player of the year and like his younger CB partner, he is a rock in defense. It takes something special to get pst these two.

The story at fullback is similar, Mikael Lustig is a rightback in his 30s while Ludwig Augustinsson, the leftback is a 23 year old who is relatively new to the national scene. Like the centerbacks, the guys at fullback buy wholly into the team-first physical ethos that’s become the mantra since the Big Z retired. They showed that ethos fully when knocking out Italy in one of the finest ‘back to the wall’ defensive displays you’ll find. Defensively they’re reliable in defense and the added bonus is they are a threat going forward especially Lustig down the right, they might not be Cafu and Roberto Carlos bombing down the flanks but they provide enough of an outlet to keep the balance perfect for Coach Andersson’s side.

The performance against Italy in the World Cup qualifying playoffs may be the best template for Sweden going forward in Group F. A catenaccio-like display of resolute blood and guts defending, combined with well coordinated strikes in attack saw them triumph over Holland and Italy in qualifying. In Group F, Germany will dominate possession and so Sweden will have to batten down the hatches. Mexico will look to do the same, and while South Korea may not quite have the on-the-ball abilities of the other two, it’s not a given that the Swedes will dominate them either so the defense has to maintain focus and concentration especially since the teams in the group are not necessarily sides who like throwing in a bunch of crosses from the wings which the Swedes would love them to do.

In goal, Sweden will hope Robin Olsen can shake off any rust from his long injury layoff.

MIDFIELD

The Blagult midfield lays the platform for the Swede defense to do it’s work. Janne Andersson favors a 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2) double six midfield approach. In this formation, the side plays with two #6s i.e. two holding midfielders. Any two of Albin Ekdal, Seb Larsson, or Jakob Johansson form a perfect shield for the defense. A perfect marriage of hard tackling, power and discipline plus self sacrifice means the two men in the central midfield role have come to epitomize what this Sweden side is all about. They help the defenders out to no end, and get the ball to the attacking midfielders with little fuss.

The two men on the ‘wings’ in midfield are not typical wingers par se, Emil Forsberg is the star of the Swedish team, and he is capable of some truly Zlatan-esque moments of magic that add stardust to a hardworking side. He will be greatly relied upon to carry a chunk of the creative burden of the side. Forsberg will tend to tilt play towards the middle of the field rather than stretching the flanks. The man on the other wing, Viktor Claesson has similar tendencies. All of this means that the Swedish attacks can tend to be a bit narrow and too centrally focused. This is where the defense-first nature of the fullbacks becomes a bit of a problem because there can be too little width to the side. However, when the fullbacks do pour forward, they have a set of central midfielders and wingers (both very hardworking guys of course) who amply cover up behind them so that the compactness of the side is not compromised.

Sweden number 10

Emil Forsberg

STRIKERS

The attack and main responsibility for goals will fall on Marcus Berg and to a lesser extent, Ola Toivonen. Neither man is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or even Ibra-lite but they bring qualities to the team that some argue lend themselves to a better functioning unit. Both are hard workers who play within the structure of the team. However when the team needs a spark, they’re not the type to get the job done. Youngsters John Guidetti and Isaac Thelin will likely make the squad but they don’t offer that superb creative magic either. The young Dortmund forward who’s been called the next Zlatan, Alexander Isak, likely won’t make the squad. He’s too green and needs to become a bit more dominant for BVB before assuming any kind of national role of trust.

So, to summarize the Swedish attack, the creativity will come from the attacking midfielder/winger Emil Forsberg and the goals will likely come from Marcus Berg.

GAME by GAME (v South Korea, v Germany, v Mexico)

*Keys to South Korea game: Can the defense handle the relentless pace of Korea’s attacks? Can Son Heung Min’s movement be kept limited without compromising team shape? Can Emil Forsberg get the ball to Marcus Berg enough times to rout the Koreans?
Prediction: The Swedes get the weakest team in the group for their opener. They should win this one but can they do so by more than a single goal? Goal difference may matter in this group.

*Keys to Germany game: Can anyone handle the movement of Germany’s midfield? Will Germany’s passing between the lines trouble the double 6 or can they stay deep and resist the temptation to push up? Can Emil Forsberg get on track? Can Viktor Claesson provide a legitimate second creative threat when Forsberg gets the German attention?
Prediction: Sweden qualified by knocking out two traditional major European superpowers, Holland & Italy, but Germany are a different beast entirely. If Blagult can maintain composure and discipline for all 90mins, a draw isn’t out of the question but this ultimately feels like a game that Sweden have to try to loss honorably.

*Keys to Mexico game: Can Sweden handle Mexico’s movement upfront? Can the Swedes force enough mistakes from Mexico’s midfield weakness without straying too far away from their own strength?
Prediction: This is not a bad matchup for Sweden. Mexico’s lack of a strong central midfield presence plays right into Swedish hands, and this may be a game where even with less possession, Sweden create more chances. Mexico can attack from all sides and very quickly which could really test Sweden. This should be a draw.

sweden world cup 23

sweden squad list

Here’s the Swedish Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Kristoffer Norfeldt, Karl-Johan Johnsson, Robin Olsen

DEFENDERS (8): Mikael Lustig, Ludwig Augustinsson, Victor Lindelhof, Andreas Granqvist, Emil Krafth, Martin Olsson, Pontus Jansson, Filip Helander

MIDFIELDERS (8): Viktor Claesson, Emil Forsberg, Seb Larsson, Albin Ekdal, Jimmy Durmaz, Oscar Hiljemark, Gustav Svensson, Marcus Rohden

FORWARDS (4): Marcus Berg, Ola Toivonen, Isaac Thelin, John Guidetti

Piece by Tise Okuo, frequent Center Circle writer, a recovering fan of Arsenal FC and lover of football.

 

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About the author: Tise Okuo

 

Soccer nut. Arsenal fan, used to enduring hard times. Admirer of the purity of tiki-taka, total football, catenaccio, and any other system bold enough to be itself. In my spare time, I am a professional thinker.

 

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