In a remarkable turn of events, Sweden emerged victorious from their play-off clash with Italy to secure World Cup qualification to Russia this summer. In the euphoric aftermath of that achievement, it seems to have been forgotten how impressive the Swedes were throughout their qualifying campaign, with the highlights being the defeat of France in Solna and edging past the Netherlands to clinch the play-off spot in second place. Don’t forget, they also went undefeated at home. In fact, coach Janne Andersson has turned his side into a formidable defensive bulwark, keeping seven clean sheets throughout the qualifiers.
In the wake of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s retirement, Andersson has built a new style of play and ethic within the Swedish camp. Their best ever finish being the runners-up in the 1958 World Cup played at home in Sweden, they have failed to qualify for the last two finals. They have a real opportunity to make it to the knockout stages this year, however their fantastic defence will certainly be tested by Germany and the high-pressure attack of Mexico. There is concern that first- choice striker Marcus Berg may become rusty following his move from Panathinaikos to Al Ain in the UAE last summer, however he was most impressive in the play-offs against Italy, and once he is backed up by partner Ola Toivonen, I don’t believe Andersson need worry about his strikers.
- Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig) – 26 year old Forsberg has had an impressive season with Bundesliga club RB Leipzig, and the attacking midfielder is in no doubt Sweden’s most imaginative asset. Played on the left side of the park, Forsberg is at his best when he is given the freedom to cut inside, opening up space for his teammates to get in behind the opposition defence. His ability to link up with the striking partnership of Berg and Toivonen may well be the determining factor in how far Sweden progress this summer.
- Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar) – The 32 year old centre-back Granqvist captains the side, and has been an ever present warrior for Sweden over the last decade. He is the back-four organiser in Andersson’s defensive-minded 4-4-2 formation, and showed his experience and coolness in the play-offs by nullifying the Italians attacking capabilities. He will need to call on this experience again if he is to lead his team out of the group stages, needing results against Germany and Mexico.
Janne Andersson – Replacing Eric Hamren at the end of Euro 2016, Andersson has rebuilt this Swedish team in the wake of the departure of their talismatic leader Ibrahimovic. The tried and trusted 4-4-2 system is embedded within the souls of the Swedes, and Andersson has solidified them even more into a secure, defensive team. If he can get them to maintain their nerve in the finals this summer, they stand a great chance of progressing into the knockout stages.