Euro 2020 team guides part 20: Sweden

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2020 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 11 June.

“The return of the God,” Zlatan Ibrahimovic tweeted modestly when it was announced he would end a five-year exile from the national team. But then God got injured and the Swedish national team were back where it started the year – which, in fairness, is not a terrible place.

True, the prospect of Ibra playing for Janne Andersson’s team was an enticing one and would have given Sweden a further edge up front, but they finished second in their Euro 2020 qualifying group behind Spain without him. Now players such as Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf and RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg will again step up as leaders.

As always for Sweden, who were this week rocked by Dejan Kulusevski testing positive for Covid, it is the team that has to win games. The collective has been No 1 since Andersson was put in charge in 2016. A prime example is the forward Marcus Berg, who is constantly praised for his running and pressing rather than his goalscoring. Working hard together, for each other, is the Swedish motto.

“We have to be a team if we’re going to have a chance against the bigger sides and this is a very strong collective,” Andersson says. When it comes to team selection there are two major questions. Firstl, who will start up front alongside Berg in Ibrahimovic’s absence? Will it be Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak or Mainz’s top scorer in the Bundesliga, Robin Quaison?

The second, and possibly more important, conundrum is who plays in the centre of defence alongside Lindelöf. The captain, Andreas Granqvist, is 36 and has hardly played in the past 18 months. The feeling is that he was almost invited for the ride in the capacity of player/coach. Andersson values his leadership qualities enormously.

His selection was questioned in Sweden, many feeling a squad place had been “wasted on a someone who was unlikely to play. Granqvist acknowledged that it hadn’t been an obvious choice, saying: “I’ve had my own doubts about whether I should go or not,” but added he was delighted to have been picked, even if he seems highly unlikely to play.

Brentford’s Pontus Jansson or his former Malmö teammate Filip Helander, who has had an excellent season with Rangers, are likely to start. Marcus Danielson, now with Chinese side Dalian Pro, is an outside option. Whoever steps in, hopes are high weden can get out of the group and possibly reach the quarter-finals again, just like the 2018 World Cup.

Many athletes have a routine where they put their kit on in a certain order or drive a certain way to their games. Sweden’s coach, Janne Andersson has his own – every match day, he absolutely has to eat a hotdog. And not any hotdog. During the World Cup in 2018 the team had specific hotdog buns and Andersson’s favourite cucumber condiment, flown in from Sweden to meet his culinary cravings. Big on discipline, he has been a huge success since taking over in 2016.

Ibrahimovic would have been the obvious choice but his possible replacement in attack, Alexander Isak, is the next big thing. The former AIK striker, who turned down Real Madrid to join Dortmund in 2017, is a popular choice when advertisers want to do something with the national team. He is quieter than Zlatan – but then who isn’t? Now in La Liga, he has already scored as many goals there as Ibrahimovic did. Featured in an Adidas advert when he was 17, alongside Gareth Bale and the NBA’s James Harden.

A year ago, Filip Helander was fourth or fifth choice at centre-back but injuries and the dwindling form of some of his teammates led to the newly crowned Scottish champion starting the World Cup qualifiers in March. He did well and is now an optionfor the opening game against Spain. “We know each other well and if we play together it will work out perfectly,” Lindelöf said when asked about the prospect of being paired with Helander.

With every major championship, there is an official song released in Sweden. The best known and loved is När vi gräver guld i USA (“When we dig for gold in the USA”) of 1994 World Cup fame. In the stands, a favourite chant is In med bollen i mål (“Put the ball in the goal”) by Markoolio. The song was written for the 2004 Euros and is regularly sung by Sweden’s “yellow wall” of supporters.

“Om bara Zlatan hade varit med” – If only Zlatan had been here.

“Varför startar Marcus Berg?”Why is Marcus Berg in the starting XI?

“Kanna på, kanna på!”Some things just won’t translate, but kanna is a beer pitcher … take a look.

Last summer, while visiting his home town of Västerås, Lindelöf witnessed a 90-year-old woman being robbed by a man on a bike. The Manchester United defender ran after him, chased him down and restrained him until police arrived. “He was very athletic,” said the woman. “It looked as if he could run through a wall just to save me.” The AIK midfielder Sebastian Larsson delivered food boxes to emergency staff at a Hospital in Eskilstuna.

Sven Bertil Liljegren and Andréas Sundberg write for fotbollskanalen.

Follow them on Twitter: @sbliljegren and @A_Sundberg.

For a player guide on Kristoffer Olsson click here.

Category:

prem

Tags:

Comments are closed.