Andy HudsonComment


Andy HudsonComment

How they got here

Sweden qualified for Euro 2012 as the best runners-up from the nine qualification groups. Grouped with the Netherlands, Hungary, Finland, Moldova and San Marino, the Swedes were always expected to place second behind the Dutch in Group E.

Sweden won eight of their ten qualifying matches that they played, losing two games - both of which were away from Stockholm. The first loss, on matchday three, was in Amsterdam where the Dutch recorded a comprehensive 4-1 win, while the Swedes also went down in Budapest on matchday seven when a last minute Gergely Rudolf strike moved the Hungarians level in the table with Sweden, albeit having played a game more at that stage.

Yet progression into the play-offs, at the minimum, was never really in any doubt after the Swedes won their first three home games – that defeat in Amsterdam coming during their home winning streak. In fact, their home form was so impressive that they defeated their Scandinavian neighbours Finland 5-0 before ending on a high, and clinching automatic qualification as the best runners-up, by defeating the Netherlands in Stockholm.

That great victory was the last match of the group stage and ruined a 100% Dutch record during qualifying. After taking the lead through a Kim Källström free-kick, the Dutch rallied to take a 2-1 lead. Yet only two minutes after Dirk Kuyt had headed the visitors ahead, Seb Larsson converted a penalty before Ola Toivonen grabbed the winner 60 seconds later.


Why they'll win

Sweden had the fifth highest amount of shots on target during the qualifying stage. Over the course of the ten games, the Swedes had 77 shots on target, an average of 7.7 per game. The team with the most, Germany, had 87 shots on target during qualifying. This is only well and good, of course, if the chances are taken, and Sweden showed that they were capable of converting chances by being the third highest scorers during qualifying with 31 goals, six fewer than the Dutch who topped the scoring charts. France and England could only manage 32 goals between them during the whole of qualifying.

There is also an experienced spine to the team. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson will go into the pre-tournament friendly games having played for his country 91 times while Olof Mellberg, who will play centre-half, has made 112 international appearances. The central midfield pairing of Anders Svensson and Kim Källström have made 126 and 90 appearances respectively while Zlatan Ibrahimović has played for Sweden 75 times and Johan Elmander has 63 international appearances under his belt.

A real positive for Sweden is that there isn’t any real expectation to get out of the group. Many people automatically think that England and France will progress while Ukraine, with home advantage, could pose a danger. Yet Sweden’s tactics are starting to bed, as proved by the way they dissected through Croatia in a February friendly played in Zagreb.


Why they won't win

Defensively, Sweden have had their problems. They conceded on average more than a goal a game during qualifying, shipping eleven in ten games, though four of those were in that 4-1 defeat in Amsterdam. Excluding the hosts, who qualified automatically, only Portugal qualified for the tournament having conceded more goals than the Swedes. England and France conceded nine goals between them in total during qualifying.

An injury to Daniel Majstorović means that the Swedish defence has fewer experienced defenders in the squad than during qualification. Olof Mellberg – playing in his final tournament – will form the heart of the defence with over a century of international appearances. Mikael Lustig has made 23 international appearances, the same as Behrang Safari. Yet the other defenders in the squad have little international experience. 


We've seen before

Zlatan Ibrahimović is the one Swedish player who has fame across the globe and for Sweden to succeed in Euro 2012, much will rest on the performance of their star striker.

The biggest difficulty facing Erik Hamrén will be where to play Ibrahimović. The manager tried to play Ibrahimović and Johan Elmander together in a 4-4-2 formation during the November 2011 friendly double against Denmark and England and there was little success. Ibrahimović will start for Sweden yet during those two friendly defeats he was anonymous and failed to link up well with his strike partner.

After the Wembley defeat, Johan Esk of Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish daily newspaper, asked: “Do Milan keep the original Zlatan and send us a bleak copy for every international game?” This summed up the Swedish media reaction to their star’s performance.

In February of this year, Hamrén positioned him in a free role, playing off Elmander, in a 3-1 away friendly victory against Croatia and was rewarded with a superb performance that suggested the Zlatan problem had been solved.

The Croatians were unable to cope with the one top-class player Sweden posses and were helpless against the movement and passing of Ibrahimović. After the game there was hope that a system had been identified that would accommodate the mercurial player.

Prior to the Wembley defeat against England, Sweden had won 53% of their games when Ibrahimović had played since making his debut in 2001. The win percentage without him in the team? That’s much higher: a fraction under 75%.  But a Swedish team with Ibrahimović on the bench is highly unlikely, especially on the back of a Serie A season where the Milan forward plundered 28 league goals.


He's new

Martin Olsson should make the left-back spot his own during the tournament after Hamrén spent much of 2011 indecisive as to who to select in that role. With as many goals for the national team as he has for Blackburn Rovers, Olsson thrives under the attacking responsibility he has at international level. He will attack down the left and should offer sturdy defensive play. With much of the Swedish team settled, Olsson, alongside Jonas Olsson of West Bromwich Albion, are the two newcomers who will be expected to play a big role at Euro 2012.


How they will play

Sweden will line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, favoured by Erik Hamrén since succeeding Lars Lagerbäck. Sweden under Lagerbäck were solid and conservative, with a habit of grinding out results on the back of strong defensive performances. Hamrén’s first four games brought victory, while in August 2010, a 3-0 victory against Scotland brought the reintroduction of Ibrahimović, returned from international retirement, into the new formation with an attacking charge.

Andreas Isaksson is the undisputed number one for the goalkeeping position and will go into the pre-tournament friendly game with 91 caps.

In front of the PSV ‘keeper, Sweden are likely to play a back four of, from right to left, Mikael Lustig, Olof Mellberg, Jonas Olsson and Martin Olsson. Hamrén has changed his left-back options a number of times since taking charge of the national team, the Blackburn left-back will be preferred having performed solidly in his eight international appearances to date. West Brom’s Jonas Olsson, with 6 international appearances to date, will have the chance to make a centre-half position his own.

Sweden will look to control the centre of midfield with the experienced pairing of Anders Svensson and Kim Källström. Svensson played in eight of the ten qualifying games and has started the 2012 Allsvenskan season in fine form, helping Elfsborg to the top of the table with the 35-year-old playing every minute of his club’s opening ten games. Källström was an ever present during qualification and weighed in with three goals.

Playing on the right will be Sebastian Larsson who was one of the success stories for Sunderland in the English Premier League last season. The dead ball specialist was one of the few consistent performers throughout a season where the Black Cats struggled under Steve Bruce before Martin O’Neil managed improvement. Larsson was another ever present as the Swedes progressed through the qualification stage and chipped in with three goals.

Rasmus Elm is expected to play left-wing, where his ability to tuck inside allows Martin Olsson extra space to attack down the flank.

Zlatan Ibrahimović should float between the midfield and forward line in a free role that he performed so magnificently in Zagreb.

Yet unfortunately for Sweden, they head into the tournament with Johan Elmander injured, though he is expected to feature during the group stages. Announcing his squad, Hamrén told reporters that the national team doctor “Leif Sward estimates that there’s a big chance that Elmander will be back to full fitness for the matches.”

This may force Hamrén to deploy an additional central midfielder in the position that Ibrahimović was expected to fill, with the captain playing a lone role up front if Elmander is unfit for the first game against Ukraine.

After a great first season for Galatasaray, Elmander was a surprise inclusion in the squad having fractured a metatarsal in his right foot as his side clinched the Turkish title on 12 May. While the biggest shock was the exclusion of John Guidetti – injury accounting for the striking sensation who spent the season on loan at Feyenoord – it was Elmander being included that was the major bonus for the team as he will be a starter when fit. Alternative options for Sweden are Ola Toivonen, Markus Rosenberg and Tobias Hysén, who is the only home based outfield player included in the 23 man squad.

You can adopt the Zlatan look by picking up your Sweden shirt from Kitbag.

Andy is the author of Blagul Fotboll. He can be found on Twitter @HuddoHudson.