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Soccer-Euros-Sweden seek to continue punching above their weight
June 5, 2012 / 1:06 AM / 6 years ago

Soccer-Euros-Sweden seek to continue punching above their weight

STOCKHOLM, June 5 (Reuters) - Ever since they lost the 1958 World Cup final on home soil to Brazil, Sweden have been punching above their weight in international football.

Somehow, this Scandinavian nation of almost nine and a half million people frequently manages to field teams that are more than the sum of their parts.

Drawn against Ukraine, England and France, the Swedes will bring their usual pragmatic game to Euro 2012 - respectful of their opponents, but certainly not in awe of them.

The Swedes shocked the Netherlands in their final Group E qualifier to secure automatic qualification as the best second-placed team.

A rampant Sweden came from behind to win 3-2, handing the Dutch their first defeat since the 2010 World Cup final.

Coach Erik Hamren maintains that his squad is “the best in the world at getting a result without changing the way we play”, but if his team are to realise their full potential he may have some tinkering to do.

Hamren favours a 4-2-3-1 system with AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic free to display the full range of his talents at the fulcrum of the attack.

Used primarily as a target man in qualifying, Ibrahimovic has been given a playmaker’s role in recent friendlies, to devastating effect- he has scored himself, created goals for others and generally occupied teams almost single-handedly.

Ibra has stated a preference to play alongside PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen, but the enormous physical capacity of Galatasaray’s Johan Elmander makes him hard to drop.

The coach can call on two excellent goalkeepers in Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven) and Johan Wiland (FC Copenhagen).

Occasionally erratic, the 30-year-old Isaksson is approaching 100 caps for his country and Wiland is unlucky to have played in the same era, winning only six since his debut in 2005.

In the centre, holding midfielders Anders Svensson and Kim Kallstrom are both excellent readers of the game, and both also possess a surgical passing ability and can split any defence.

ABLY ASSISTED

The evergreen Olof Mellberg, now at Olympiakos in Greece, steers a well-marshalled defence that is ably assisted by its midfield, but left back has been a problem area with several players being tried there.

After some shaky performances by Oscar Wendt, Blackburn’s Martin Olsson looks to have made the berth his own.

Mikael Lustig was a given at right back, but since moving to Celtic from Rosenborg he has had precious little playing time, and Hamren looks set to favour Bologna’s Andreas Granqvist for the role.

Hamren has been forced to call up Werder Bremen’s Markus Rosenberg in place of John Guidetti, which weakens his atacking options from the bench somewhat.

On loan at Feyenoord from Manchester City, Guidetti had exploded onto the scene during his season-long loan at Feyenoord from the Premier League side.

But a virus caused him to miss the end of the season an the teenager hasn’t recovered in time to be included in the squad.

If the Swedes want to progress they will be looking to collect all three points on offer.

Although historically obsessed with English football, the Swedes are never awe-struck when meeting their national team and their defeat to them in a friendly last November was the first time they had lost to England in 43 years.

Even if they have historically had a hard time against France, Hamren’s men are capable of getting a result against any side, as they showed in their 3-2 demolition of the Dutch to qualify.

Ibrahimovic missed that match and in their captain’s absence the other players seemed liberated as they tore the Dutch defence to shreds to qualify directly as the best second-placed team.

This led to whispers in some quarters that Hamren should do the unthinkable and consider dropping one of the most effective scorers of the last decade in Serie A.

But despite finishing a season trophyless - an unusual occurence in his glittering career - Zlatan appears to be in top form coming into the tournament, scoring and creating chances in equal measure.

There is no doubting his prodigious individual talent; the question is whether his team-mates can perform in his shadow or whether the old Swedish collective ideal is better suited to their skills.

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