Team Profile: Sweden
When you think Sweden, you usually think of that Pep-hating, teammate-kicking patriarch of footballing head cases, Zlatan Ibrahimovic – or to his friends and minions, ZLATAN (all caps).
But behind the nomadic Swede, there is a very strong team that could possibly impress a few during their campaign in Poland and Ukraine.
Their qualifying campaign was pretty much a tag-team game of shooting fish in a barrel with Holland, as they comfortably finished in second place, five points clear of third place Hungary; a plus twenty goal difference put them into the tournament automatically as the best runners-up. They were in a group with San Marino, who finished with no goals scored and fifty-three against – so that’s where the big goal difference lies then. They only lost twice – to top of the table Holland and Hungary – and had a number of big wins, beating Moldova 4-1, San Marino 6-0 and then 5-0 in the reverse, beating Scandinavian neighbours 5-0 Finland (not very neighbourly, if you ask me), and denying the Netherlands their first 17-game qualifying win steak, beating them 3-2 at the Rasunda Stadium in Solna.
The top scorer of their qualifying campaign is naturally Zlatan Ibrahimovic with five goals, and the rest of the goals are spread throughout their team. There is a lot of natural talent in the Swedish squad that will look to perform in this tournament, which is one of the most open tournaments in recent memory.
If you look beyond Zlatan, their next best player is Rasmus Elm, who has been attracting a number of clubs in England with his great season at AZ Alkmaar. He bagged 13 goals this past season and while he has only scored once for the national side, he appears to have put his injury problems behind him.
Another key player for them and my one to watch for the Sweden side is Ola Toivonen. The 25-year old PSV Eindhoven striker has had an impressive campaign, scoring 24 goals in 45 appearances. Averaging a goal every 1.9 games is the reason a lot of big clubs are coveting the young Swede, and he will be looking to prove himself on the big stage, as he has admitted to perhaps wanting to move to a bigger club.
They have a lot of well-known talent through the squad, under the guidance of manager Erik Hamren. The three Olssons, (the twins that play for Blackburn and the one at West Brom respectively), Sunderland’s Seb Larsson, former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg and former Manchester City goalkeeper (who should have got more of a look in than he did) Andreas Isaksson. Combine that with top European talent such as Marcus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen), Andreas Granqvist (Genoa) and Johan Elmander (Galatasaray) – you have a team to be reckoned with.
Drawn in a tough group alongside England and France, they will be looking to start off on a good footing in their opening game against Ukraine. The other two aren’t impossible for the Swedes – with England only beating them once in a good few decades – they could easily finish second in that group and qualify to the knockout stages.
Their European Championship pedigree is rather modern. They qualified for the first time in 1992 – only because they were the hosts. They did shock Europe however, by reaching the semi-finals, only losing to Germany 3-2. They then did not qualify for Euro 1996 but have qualified for every tournament since then, even reaching the quarter finals in Euro 2004.
The days of Henrik Larsson and Thomas Ravelli may have been since moved to the history books, but they have a crop of talented players who might be playing their last European Championships (the average age is 28) alongside the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who knows what the Scandinavians might achieve?
A Swede can dream, can’t they? A Swede can dream….
Prediction: If France underperform, quarter-finals – if not, group stage.