Wernbloom: Zlatan doesn’t have to make fancy speeches, he leads this Sweden team by example

All eyes will be on the ex-PSG striker when the Swedes play their first Euro 2016 game against the Republic of Ireland. Midfielder Pontus Wernbloom tells FFT why that's fine by him…

Sweden are in Group E with Belgium, Italy and the Republic of Ireland - would you be happy with third place?

Of course not, when you enter a tournament you want to win the group and of course we want to make it to the knockout stage. We have all the ingredients. We have a lot of good players, a good atmosphere and we have a superstar. So I think we’ll be aiming to make the knockout stage, for sure.

You mentioned the superstar and it’s hard to talk about Sweden without mentioning your skipper, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. What kind of a character is he?

He’s a leader, he leads by example. He doesn’t speak that much, he’s a great guy off the pitch but he’s more of a leader by example. He doesn’t always have to speak, say fancy words and make fancy speeches, but he shows it from the work he does in the front line. That’s why we really appreciate him as a captain.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan doesn't speak much. Apparently

How do the rest of the players feel when people say Sweden are a one-man team?

When the other team focus more on Zlatan it gives the rest of us more space, especially the attacking players

Of course, if you have a player like that in your team he’s going to steal all the headlines, which is fine for us! If we give him the ball as much as we can then we have a better chance of winning the game because he’s one of the greatest players on the planet.

If we keep him involved in a game, we know we have a good chance of winning. But also when the other team focus more on Zlatan it gives the rest of us more space, especially the attacking players. So it’s also a good distraction to have him in the team. If the opponent puts two players on him then that means we have an advantage somewhere else on the pitch. We’re trying to use that advantage.

So does your coach Erik Hamren form a gameplan around the fact that Zlatan will occupy more than one defender?

We can’t just give him the ball and hope for the best, we have to stop the opposition as well

It’s not our gameplan, but that’s just how it is. No-one wants to play one against one with Zlatan so you try to gain an advantage there. It opens up space somewhere else. It’s easier said than done but that’s what you try to do when you play football: get a tactical advantage, if it’s a two against one on the wing, in the middle, wherever.

When you have a player like that up front, they have to focus more on him because they don’t want to leave him alone. Although of course if you have a player like that, we want him to play one against one as much as possible. And when the opposition is defending well, it’s a huge responsibility for the rest of us. We can’t just give him the ball and hope for the best, we have to stop the opposition as well.

We all have to play well, we can’t rely on Zlatan to score all the goals and provide all the assists. We also have a duty – maybe we’re not world class players but we’re good enough and we’re not afraid. We play big roles for our clubs, so we also have to take responsibility.

Pontus Wernbloom

Wernbloom, who plays his club football for CSKA Moscow, gets a handle on Jesse Lingard

Are there any particular players from Italy, Belgium or Ireland that you’re looking forward to facing?

We played against these teams not so long ago so I don’t really think about the other teams like that or get excited. Of course it’s a tough group, but not impossible at all – that was my reaction when I saw the draw. We have a group where we can make it to the knockout stage and I think all of us are thinking like that.

You need to come well prepared and the first game of the tournament is always crucial. If you have a good result there, you will grow as a group. We have all the ingredients to beat every nation at the Euros - it’s just that we need momentum when we play the games.

Because of that need for momentum, do you see it as a good thing that you’re playing Ireland first rather than Belgium or Italy? Do you know much about them?

We played them not so long ago and they’re a good team for sure, but the first game is crucial and if you lose the first two you’re out. So I’d prefer to play Ireland in the first game than the last game, but they’re a great opponent and when we played against them last we got a draw at home and won away. It’s going to be tough, as I think everyone that makes it to the European Championship is a great team and all of them will have good ingredients just like Sweden.

Sweden

Wernbloom is confident Sweden can cause problems for Belgium, Italy and the Republic of Ireland in Group E

Do you think beating rivals Denmark in the play-off to qualify has given the team a lift going into the tournament?

Yes of course, it was a great feeling for us to beat Denmark. We really needed that win – it was a huge one because they’re our neighbours so it was huge for the Swedish people and for us. We were getting a bit of criticism back home so it was nice to show everyone we could make it through. We didn’t make it in the nicest way by winning the group, but we made it. It was our task to qualify and we did, even if we made it bit tougher for ourselves than we wanted.

Are there any players in this Sweden team who you think could surprise people?

Well we have Emil Forsberg, who plays for Red Bull Leipzig in Germany and who scored against Denmark. I think he’s really exciting. We have a couple of young guys in the big leagues now and we have some back home as well so I think we have a decent team. We have some good youngsters coming up.

Will there be extra pressure on Sweden in this tournament because of the failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2014?

I think we always have a little bit of pressure. I think we’ll head into the tournament as a bit of an underdog but we think about ourselves. We want to compete and we know that we can. In our mind we want to win all the games.

It’s been nine years since you made your debut for Sweden and you’re one of the most experienced players in the team. Do you feel an extra weight of responsibility at all?

No, I’ve had a lot of games on the bench with Sweden so I don’t feel special or anything, I’m just going to be the same as always. I do my thing and for me that’s the best thing – to play as well as you can, even in training. I’m not going to change anything; what took me to the Swedish national team from the beginning was being who I am and I’m going to keep doing that.

What do you think of Italy? Antonio Conte is leaving for Chelsea after the tournament, do you think they’ll be as dangerous as in the past, or can you knock them out?

Of course I think we have a chance, but you always know with the Italians that they are great when it comes to the championships throughout history, so I don’t think we can expect anything less. Hopefully we will beat them anyway but they will be a good team and they have the quality and the mentality. They’re going to be one of the favourites to win the whole tournament.