Euro 2016: Sweden utterly reliant on Zlatan’s form
Ibrahimovic’s star may be fading but he is still the most likely to fire Sweden through the group
Oscar Lewicki , seen above tackling Bernardo Silva of Portugal, was an integral part of the Swedish under-21 team that won last year’s European Championship. Photograph: Getty
Euro 2016 is likely to be Erik Hamren’s lasts as the manager of Sweden. Photograph: Getty
Age may finally be slowing Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he can still be deadly in front of goal. Photograph: Getty
Erik Hamren’s side are in much the same boat as Martin O’Neill’s although he does have the advantage of a superstar striker, something that has created the downside of heightened expectation back at home. Zlatan Ibrahimovic certainly produced the goods in qualifying with the 34 year-old getting around two thirds of the teams goals, a figure that increased to three quarters in the play-offs against Denmark when he claimed sole responsibility for breaking Danish hearts and wasn’t too far off the mark. The rest of the squad is ordinary enough and Sweden couldn’t manage a win, home or away, against either of the two teams that finished above them in the group, Austria and Russia. There is plenty of experience with the likes of Kim Kallstrom and Andreas Isaksson and Andreas Granqvist al having seen a fair bit of action at this level but Zlatan aside there is not too much invention and it is no great surprise that the Swedes are every bit as hung up on their opening group game as the Irish are.
How they qualified:
When drawn into Group G of Euro 2016 qualifying, Sweden would have fancied their chances of advancing automatically given that only Russia and Austria appeared to pose a real threat. However, four consecutive draws to start their campaign (including dropped points against Moldova and Montenegro) put the Swedes on the back foot. A 4-1 home defeat to Austria (who topped the group with 28 points from a possible 30) was a particular low point. They recovered, however, and managed to confirm a play-off place thanks in no small part to Moldova, Montenegro and Lichtenstein cancelling each other out. Despite the advantage of being seeded for the play-off draw Sweden were unlucky in being paired, not only in a Scandanavian derby, but with the strongest of the unseeded teams – Denmark. After a 2-1 home win the Swedes looked to be cruising when a Zlatan Ibrahimovic brace had them 2-0 up in Copenhagen. However, two Danish goals in the final eight minutes resulted in a frantic endgame, Sweden just about managing to hold on and qualify.
Manager: Erik Hamren
Hamren has enjoyed a distinguished coaching career which includes guiding Rosenborg to the Norweigan title in his first full season in charge. The 58-year-old took over the Sweden job back in 2009 but hasn’t enjoyed quite as successful term as many would have hoped. In his first qualifying campaign Hamren led Sweden to Euro 2012 but they failed to perform on the big stage, losing two games and going home after the group stages. A failed attempt at qualifying for the 2014 World Cup followed before success was achieved via the playoffs for this year’s tournament. After three qualification campaigns in charge it’s very likely that Euro 2016 could be Hamren’s last farewell.
Star man: Zlatan Ibrahimovich
The Swede may have a very high opinion of himself but he’s not entirely wrong. His run of title successes at club level is remarkable and though Sweden will not be winning titles anytime soon, they would almost certainly not be at tournaments if it wasn’t for their standout striker. Ibrahimovic is getting on a bit and a slow start to the club season in France - due in part to lingering fitness issues - raised the prospect that his powers might be fading. His form for PSG in the months since, however, and his dominance in the Euro 2016 play-offs – he scored three of his 11 international goals for last year – provided reminders of the damage he can still do, especially to middle ranking teams.
Prospect: Oscar Lewicki
The 23-year-old midfielder was an integral part of the Swedish under-21 side which won the European Championships last year and that good form has earned him a spot in the senior squad to go to France. Having begun his career with Bayern Munich, Lewicki made the move to Malmo in 2014 and since has embedded himself in the starting 11.
Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Copenhagen), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Pontus Jansson (Torino), Erik Johansson (Copenhagen), Victor Lindelof (Benfica) Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Martin Olsson (Norwich).
Midfielders: Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiakos), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo), Kim Kallstrom (Grasshoppers), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Oscar Lewicki (Malmo), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow).
What President Trump says...
“I love the Swedes. My family came from Sweden originally. I know I said they came from Germany but Sweden sounds better.”