As club competitions across the continent come to a close in the next few weeks, players and fans are eagerly waiting for the Euro 2020 tournament to start. After ending the 2016 edition of the European Championships on a disappointing note, Sweden have since made a notable turnaround on the field in a new avatar. The return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is making a comeback to international football after a gap of five years, has raised hopes of fans across the country that this might be their breakout year.
While they are not favourites to win the tournament, Janne Andersson’s men will fancy their chances to advance as far into the tournament as they possibly can. Here’s our guide to the Swedish football team, and its chances in the tournament:
JANNE ANDERSSON AT THE HELM
Janne Andersson was appointed to helm the young but disoriented team after their disastrous Euro 2016 campaign under Erik Hamren. Under Andersson, Sweden have had a remarkable turnaround in fortune, but they remain a team in transition. Notably, Andersson brought his own style of management to the team, even denying Ibrahimovic a spot in the team in his quest to build the squad from the ground up. Aware of the lack of ‘star players’, Andersson concentrated on building a defensive unit that plays boring football but brings home the result at the end of the day.
The efforts soon bore fruit as Sweden qualified for their first FIFA World Cup tournament in 12 years and had one of their most successful World Cup campaigns in Russia. They had to eliminate giants like Italy to earn a spot in the World Cup, and they finished top of their group, ahead of world champions Germany. The Swedes even advanced to the quarter-finals, but they succumbed to Gareth Southgate’s men.
This is Sweden’s sixth consecutive UEFA European Championship tournament, and the first under the charge of Andersson. With a track record of 26 wins from 53 games, Andersson will be keen to add a trophy to his legacy at the helm.
Despite being 39, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the team’s top player. The return of the king to international football after five years in retirement has come as a welcome surprise to the fans, and the legend has made his mark in the team already. With 62 goals from his 116 international appearances, Ibrahimovic is a legend not just in Sweden, but the world over. But a looming suspension has made his participation in the tournament uncertain, and UEFA’s decision in the matter is awaited.
Dejan Kulusevski has emerged as Sweden’s top talent in the absence of Ibrahimovic. The 20-year-old made a memorable mark at Parma, and his stint at Juventus so far has been impressive. A good dribbler of the ball, Kulusevski’s ability to cruise past opponents with pace and balance will certainly tip the scales in favour of the Swedes.
FORM CHECK FOR THE TEAM
Sweden’s form in recent months has been impressive but inconsistent. They finished second behind Spain in their qualification campaign in Group F, with six victories and just one loss, again to the Spaniards. Spain and Sweden were drawn in the same group once again in the tournament, and with a superior team to face early in the campaign, Andersson’s men will be jittery.
Sweden’s form after the qualification tournament was less than impressive. They were drawn along with Portugal and France in the Nations League tournament, where they had a miserable run. The Swedes lost four consecutive fixtures – their worst streak of results in a century, and finished last in the group, below Croatia.
Those losses probably made Andersson change his mind and bring back Ibrahimovic into the team. The return of the legend saw Sweden cruise in their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, recording back-to-back victories against Georgia and Kosovo. Swedes will be hoping that their return to form will last the length of the tournament.
Since his makeover of the team, Andersson has adopted a compact 4-4-2 formation focused on simplicity, being direct in their attack and solid in their defence. Sweden’s strength lies in their rock-solid defence, with Mikael Lustig and Emil Krafth being supported by Victor Lindelof and Marcus Danielson.
Kristoffer Olsson and Albin Ekdal form the anchors in midfield, allowing Sebastian Larsson and Emil Forsberg to push the ball deep on either side. Larsson’s experience in the midfield allows him to dictate the pace of play. Marcus Berg and Dejan Kulusevski pair together in the attacking set-up, but with Ibrahimovic back it’s likely that Berg will drop to the bench. Ibrahimovic and the dynamic Kulusevski make a formidable combination of youth and experience, and Sweden are a goal-scoring threat to any team.
WILL SWEDEN MAKE IT TO THE KNOCKOUTS?
While Andersson and Ibrahimovic have emphasised that they are playing to win the tournament, their chances of doing so are slim. The team is one in transition, and the return of Ibrahimovic shows their desperation to have some experience on the field. Sweden have their old nemesis Spain and Robert Lewandowski-powered Poland for company in the group stages, and it will be a tough task for the Swedes to reach the knock-offs. But nothing can be ruled out in football, and Sweden might be the outsider that takes the world by surprise this time around.