Sweden edge scrappy last-16 affair with Switzerland
Emil Forsberg’s deflected shot enough for Scandinavian side in St Petersburg
Emil Forsberg of Sweden scores his team’s first goal past goalkeeper Yann Sommer of Switzerland during the World Cup Round of 16 match at Saint Petersburg Stadium. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images
Anyone wondering ahead of kick-off how these two had avoided each other in all eight of the previous tournaments that they had both reached might have been tempted 20 minutes in to suggest divine intervention.
Sweden’s goal and the increasingly anxious attempts by Switzerland to save themselves after it ensured a rather more action-packed close to the game but still, if the question of this World Cup’s quality is still dividing people then it’s pretty clear which side in the debate will be pointing this way.
The Swiss, ranked sixth in the world after a run of just one defeat in 20 since they were knocked out of Euro 2016, had started as favourites but their coach Vladimir Petkovic acknowledged that his side had really only got going when in trouble.
“Of course, we would have wanted to do more,” he said amid the usual prodding over just how much of the blame he should shoulder. “We didn’t show the sort of emotion that we would have liked but I have seen the same thing in Sweden’s games; they’re opponents find it hard to play the way they want to and we have seen that again today.
“We still have to analyse the game but clearly we were missing something. We tried to play with more emotion over the last 15 minutes, to take more risks, and we were better but it wasn’t enough to tip the game in our favour. At the key moments, we weren’t good enough but Sweden have something to do with that as well. They deserve a lot of credit.
“They have never been regarded as the favourites in this World Cup; not in the qualifiers, not in the group stages but they keep on progressing. Everybody has been sceptical, suggesting that they are a mediocre team but it’s not true; they are physically strong and they would work very well together. They have many attributes. They are a good side.”
That is a view that is likely to scrutinised a little more closely at the weekend because Janne Andersson’s side did not have to be great to progress here. Over the 90 minutes they created the better chances but weren’t really any more clinical than their opponents when it came to putting them away.
Ultimately, Petkovic observed, it was a game that was going to be decided “by an own goal or a long-range shot,” and there was a little bit of both about it as things turned out. Emil Forsberg claimed it, of course, something that will suit all concerned, but his low strike from the edge of the area with 22 minutes remaining looked to be heading straight at goalkeeper Yann Sommer until defender Manuel Akanji, who played rather well here overall and was one of the Swiss success stories in the group stage, clumsily got in the way and turned the ball into his own side’s top corner.
The build up to it had probably been one of their better ones of the afternoon but Sweden’s finishing up until that point had suggested they might need a little help getting over the line and there were questions afterwards about Marcus Berg’s ongoing struggles after the 31 year-old striker, who has yet to score at this tournament, passed up a complete sitter in the first half.
“I have no concerns about Marcus,” claimed the coach. “He played a great game today and the goals will come. We were asked the same question about Emil before and he scored today.”
The upshot is that the Swedes are through to the last eight of a World Cup for the first time in 24 years and though few would have rated them too highly beforehand despite the playoff defeat of Italy, their opponents on Saturday in Samara will do well not to underestimate the confidence and collective sense of purpose that has gotten them this far.
“The important thing is to believe in what you do,” said Forsberg, still clearly chuffed with his and the team’s achievement, afterwards. “That is what is paying off for us. If we get things right we know that we can be really good in defence and attack; we have proven that and our reward in that we are in the quarter-finals.
“Put your head down, work hard and focus. It doesn’t always turn out for the best, it can go bad but you give yourself every chance and I’m so proud of what we have all achieved with this squad so far. Now we are pushing on now to achieve even more things.”
It will be a stretch, to be fair. Mikael Lustig, the Celtic right back who did well here, will miss the game through suspension and a few of his team-mates, Forsberg included, limped out of this one as the flat out effort of preventing the Swiss finding any of their usual rhythm gradually took its toll.
Still they finished strongly. Breel Embolo and Haris Seferovic, the two Swiss subs, had chances late on to equalise blocked and saved respectively as Sweden rose to the challenge of defending the lead they had taken.
As is so often the case in such circumstances the growing desperation of the side chasing things at one end left them open at the other.
The Swedes broke and looked set to score when Michael Lang nudged Ludwig Augustinsson in the back, The referee pointed to the spot and reached for his red card. After an intervention by VAR the Swiss were spared the spot kick but it made no difference; Ola Toivonen’s free was the last kick of their campaign.
They head for home, leaving Andersson’s men to eye up an unlikely repeat of the country’s campaign USA’94 which only ended in a semi-final defeat by Brazil. Win on Saturday and they would surely start to dream of doing even better this time.
SWEDEN (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig (Krafth, 82 mins), Lindelöf, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Svensson, Ekdal, Forsberg (Olsson, 82 mins); Berg (Thelin, 90 mins), Toivonen.
SWITZERLAND (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lang, Djourou, Akanji, Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili (Seferovic, 73 mins), Zuber (Embolo, 73 mins); Drmic.
Referee: D Skomina (Slovenia).