Zlatan Ibrahimovic should advertise a certain energy drink, because he gives Sweden wings. More than the team, the country’s entire football culture has been Zlatanised. This could be the 34-year-old’s last tournament; Swedes hope he’ll make it count.
Lesson from qualifying
Fix the problems in midfield. Sweden were lucky to have the play-offs as a safety net after Russia and Austria exposed their soft centre and forced them into a two-tie tussle with the neighbouring Danes.
Zlatan. He’s in the form of his life, scoring 19 goals in his previous 21 competitive internationals. Elsewhere, promoting some of the 2015 European U21 Championship winners has provided a youthful energy that’s been lacking for some time.
Zlatan. Coach Hamren’s only plan is to get the ball to his super-striker. When he’s cut off or simply not around, Sweden look lost.
Most likely to…
Be unpredictable. You can see them losing to the Irish but beating Italy and Belgium.
Least likely to…
Make matches boring. Even though Hamren tends to adjust his team to the needs of each situation, things often go wrong, which leads to very open and entertaining matches.
What they hope will happen
Beat the Irish, find a way out of the group, and with a bit of luck reach the last eight.
What will happen
They’ll draw all three of their matches and miss out on a place in the last 16 due to an inferior goal difference.
Key player - Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibra’s at the top of his game, and Swedish football orbits around him. He’s not only one of international football’s most clinical strikers; he’s also the heart and soul of this team, and everything else to boot.
Manager - Erik Hamren
Zlat... no, wait. Hamren’s criticised for a lack of tactical ideas but he’s been in the job since 2009, despite Sweden missing out on Brazil 2014. The 58-year-old will stand down in July.
Q&A - Pontus Wernbloom
You’re in a very tough group. Would you be happy with third?
Of course not. We want to win the group. We have all the ingredients: a lot of good players, a good atmosphere and a superstar.
You mention the superstar – what’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic like?
He’s a great guy. He doesn’t speak much but he doesn’t have to make fancy speeches because he leads by example. That’s why we really appreciate him as a captain.
What do you think when people say you’re a one-man team?
Of course if you have a player like that he’s going to hog the headlines – that’s fine by us! We have a better chance of winning the game if we give him the ball as much as we can. He’s one of the best players on the planet. But also, when teams focus on Zlatan, it gives the rest of us space. Maybe we’re not world-class players but we’re good enough.
Which player may surprise people?
We have Emil Forsberg, who plays for Red Bull Leipzig and scored in the play-off against Denmark. I think he’s really exciting.
Fixtures and results
June 13, Rep. Ireland - Saint-Denis, Midnight
June 17, Italy - Toulouse, 9pm
June 23, Belgium - Nice, 3am
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
vs Austria (A) 1-1
vs Russia (H) 1-1
vs Liechtenstein (H) 2-0
vs Montenegro (A) 1-1
vs Moldova (A) 2-0
vs Montenegro (H) 3-1
vs Russia (A) 0-1
vs Austria (H) 1-4
vs Liechtenstein (A) 2-0
vs Moldova (H) 2-0
vs Denmark (H) 2-1
vs Denmark (A) 2-2
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
2000 Group stage
2008 Group stage
2012 Group stage
Words: Sasa Ibrulj, Interview: Alasdair Mackenzie
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