Sweden may not have many punters backing them at the European championships this season, but there is an undeniable level of skill, ability and quality in their side that travels to Poland/Ukraine for Euro 2012, typified by their captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The punters should be wary of this team as they have the ability to win big games with this colossus leading them.
Sweden have featured at the European championships a total of four times, with this years appearance being their fifth. In their four previous appearances they have made it out of the group stage twice, once in 1992 (Sweden were also hosts that year) when they went on to have their best result of the tournament to date being eliminated in the semi-finals. They also made it to the quarter finals in 2004 despite only winning 1 game. Euro 2008 saw Sweden once again eliminated at the group stage as losses to Spain and Russia cost them a place in the quarter finals, leaving them to finish 3rd in group D with their only win coming against then reigning champions Greece.
Following the early exit from the European championships Sweden then failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as they finished third in their group behind Denmark and Portugal. Manager Lars Lagerback stepped down from his position after this disappointing end to their World Cup qualification with Erik Hamren stepping in as new manager to lead the team to Euro 2012 qualification.
Sweden qualified for the European championships at the best runner-up, coming second to the Netherlands in group E, taking 24 points from 10 games. They registered 8 wins, including a 5-0 hammering of Finland, and just 2 losses, once each to Hungary and the Netherlands in the away ties. During qualification they amassed 31 goals in the 10 games while conceding only 11, only the Netherlands conceded less in the group.Kim Kallstrom finished the qualification stage as the player with the joint most assists with 7 in the 10 games, while Ibrahimovic finished as Sweden’s leading goal scorer with 5.
Pre Tournament Form
In the build up to the tournament teams often play a number of friendlies, with Sweden winning their last 3 international friendlies prior to the tournament it must be said that they enter in good form. They have recorded wins over Croatia (3-1), Iceland (3-2) and Serbia (2-1), perhaps not demonstrating their strengths at the back but highlighting their attacking prowess with players such as Ibrahimovic, Toivonen and Johan Elmander leading the line following impressive campaigns for their respective clubs.
Star Player – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – FWD
Age:30; Height: 195cm; Weight: 84kg
Unquestionably Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden’s star player, he is the key to their success in this tournament and as captain he must lead his men from the front. He did this during qualification finishing as Sweden’s leading goalscorer with 5 in 10 games. He is coming off a remarkable season personally at AC Milan scoring 28 goals in 32 games, making him the leading goalscorer in Serie A 4 goals clear of Diego Milito in second place. In all competitions Ibrahimovic scored 37 goals in 44 appearances (including international matches during 2011/12 season), he also assisted 10 goals over the course of the season. With an average of 4.2 shots per game combined with his exceptional touch and ability to beat players Ibrahimovic has to be rated up there with the best strikers to feature at this years Championships.
Total Sweden Apps: 77; Total Sweden Goals: 31
Their major weapon is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is one of the best strikers in Europe
Roy Hodgson talking to the press prior to Euro 2012 (6th June 2012).
Key Player – Sebastian Larsson – AM(LR)
Age: 27; Height: 178cm; Weight: 70kg
Sebastian Larsson has become a key piece to any side he is in, he has developed into something of a set piece specialist scoring from 3 free kicks this season in the league. He led the premier league in crosses with 264 and managed to finish with 7 goals to his name. Being able to play on either the left or right hand side gives the team flexibility should they need to change tactics during a game and his dangerous crosses should provide plenty of ammunition for the Swedish strikers, be it Ibrahimovic, Toivonen or Elmander. Larsson also contributed 3 goals in the 10 qualifying matches, proving that he is a threat that can provide or score goals.
Total Sweden Apps: 41; Total Sweden Goals: 5
One to Watch – Rasmus Elm – M
Age:24; Height: 184cm, Weight: 75kg
Rasmus Elm has had several top European clubs chasing him for some time now with scouts from Manchester United, Liverpool, Milan, Juventus, Arsenal, Valencia and many others being spotted at AZ Alkmaar watching the talented midfielder this season. He is recognised as a classic playmaker who can score, take on opponents, win duels and find team mates with a variety of passes, be they long or short balls. He is also a bit of a set piece specialist, taking free kicks and penalties for Alkmaar and has also scored directly from a corner kick this season in a match against Grafschaap, giving Sweden plenty of options when it comes to dead ball deliveries or attempts at goal with Elm, Ibrahimovic and Larsson all in the same side. Elm made 43 appearances (including 3 as a sub) for club and country this season, scoring 13 goals and registering 1 assist. While he failed to score in qualification for Sweden, the scene is set for this young player to make his mark on international football and show the world the player he really is. Keep your eyes open for this midfielder!
He has been one of the best players in the whole league
The Guardian in a piece about Elm’s performances in the Dutch league as part of the build up to Euro 2012 (5th June 2012)
Total Sweden Apps: 24; Total Sweden Goals: 1
While those three players are key to Sweden’s chances at this year’s Euro’s, we all know that football is a team game and Sweden have a talented 23 man squad for this competition including:
1. Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven)
12. Johan Wiland (FC Copenhagen)
23. Par Hansson (Helsingborg)
2. Mikael Lustig (Celtic)
3. Olof Mellberg (Olympiakos)
4. Andreas Granqvist (Genoa)
5. Martin Olsson (Blackburn)
13. Jonas Olsson (West Bromwich Albion)
15. Mikael Antonsson (Bologna)
17. Behrang Safari (Anderlecht)
6. Rasmus Elm (AZ Alkmaar)
7. Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland)
8. Anders Svensson (Elfsborg)
9. Kim Kallstrom (Lyon)
14. Tobias Hysen (IFK Gothenburg)
16. Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow)
18. Samuel Holmen (Istanbul)
19. Emir Bajrami (Twente)
21. Christian Wilhelmsson (Al Hilal)
10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan)
11. Johan Elmander (Galatasaray)
20. Ola Toivonen (PSV Eindhoven)
22. Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen)
Sweden are expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 according to WhoScored with Ibrahimovic dropping off the main striker, anticipated to be Elmander, to enable him to have more touches of the ball and give him more chances to create goals. However, I believe that Sweden will more likely line up in a more conventional formation such as 4-4-2 with Ibrahimovic being one of the two strikers leading the line. With Ibrahimovic up front and not dropping off this gives Sweden a dangerous aerial threat with Ibrahimovic’s size and strength, he may occassionaly drop off to collect the ball but I thoroughly expect him to be high up the pitch having shots and creating chances that way. With Sweden’s midfielders such as Kallstrom, Elm and Larsson behind him feeding himself and Ola Toivonen who had a good solid season for PSV.
Group D (& Uefa Competition World Ranking)
(Rankings from Fifa.com current as of June 6th 2012)
Sweden’s Group D Fixtures
Monday 11th June 2012 – Sweden vs Ukraine @ Kiev – 19:45 Ko BST
Friday 15th June 2012 – Sweden vs England @ Kiev – 17:00 Ko BST
Tuesday 19th June 2012 – Sweden vs France @ Kiev – 19:45 Ko BST
Sweden’s Chances for Success
Sweden has a fairly strong squad at this European Championship, however, they are in a strong group with England and France, not forgetting co-hosts Ukraine who may have a unique advantage as a host nation. However, if the team plays well and key players play to their full ability I predict that they will make it out of the group, but it will come down to their final group game versus France on the 19th of June. The team should not settle for third place in the group, they have the players and the ability to make waves in this group and move on through to the quarter-finals. The burden of a nation’s hopes will fall largely at Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s feet, only time will tell if he can handle it and lead Sweden to a memorable campaign and possibly a place in the history books.
(Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com, & ESPN Soccernet)