Emil Forsberg has been catching the eye of some of Europe’s leading clubs while starring for RB Leipzig, and Monday saw him get a chance to shine on the world’s biggest stage.
But on his World Cup debut, Forsberg showed off other aspects of his game, with his work ethic and effort helping Sweden to a 1-0 win.
Here’s a closer look at his performance.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 4
Shots on target – 0
Key passes – 0
Passing accuracy – 87%
Dribbles – 1
Touches – 54
Forsberg is capable of lighting up games on his best days. However, Monday was one of those games where, instead of grabbing headlines with starring moments, it was his graft that helped his team to victory.
He fell short in terms of producing the telling passes and fluffed his lines with presentable scoring opportunities – and on another day that profligacy could cost Sweden. But tireless effort when not at your best is a valuable commodity, and that’s exactly what Forsberg provided.
His passing was neat and composed as Sweden saw the majority of possession. He was quick to find his team-mates when the defensive attention was too much to shrug off, showcasing a valuable level of maturity and decision-making.
Forsberg was also a key part of Sweden’s rearguard, helping out in defence whenever required. It was a level of effort that would have been much appreciated by his team-mates, as together they repelled South Korea’s more threatening attacks.
Forsberg fell short of providing the incision he is capable of, failing to pull off the sort of pass that leads to a gilt-edged chance for a teammate. Indeed, statistically speaking, he created zero chances on Monday, an unusual occurrence from the player who is looked upon as Sweden’s chief creative force.
He also seemingly forgot his shooting boots, as he was unable to test the South Korea keeper despite being given a couple of decent, presentable chances to do so.
49th minute SHOT: Sweden broke at pace from a quickly-taken free-kick, and the ball made its way to Forsberg on the edge of the box. His shot was high and wide when he should have done better.
Forsberg will be the first to admit that he’s capable of delivering more than he did on Monday. His creative threat was nowhere near its most potent, and Sweden will require a better performance on that front in other games.
But with a work ethic like his, Forsberg showed that there’s more than one way to have an impact. His graft and effort were valuable aspects of a hard-fought and well-deserved Sweden win.
RATING – 6/10
Cisse captained that team as it went on a memorable run to the quarter-finals, beating defending champions France on the way.
The 42-year-old is preparing his side to take on Poland in Moscow on Tuesday but dismissed comparisons between the two vintages of Senegalese talent, saying they have never had a player like Mane before.
“Sadio Mane is a unique player and he cannot be compared to any other Senegal player, even the major ones we’ve had in the past,” said Cisse, who spent four seasons in the Premier League with Birmingham and Portsmouth.
“And despite everything that has happened for him over the last two years, he hasn’t changed – he’s just as humble as he was when I first met him at the 2012 Olympics.
“Senegal isn’t only Sadio Mane, though, he has a good team built around him and I think it should be a little plus for him that we’re all behind him.”
When asked by reporters if the 26-year-old winger had a chance to become one of the world’s best players during this tournament, Cisse said: “He’s already one of the best – you can’t say he’s not.
“He plays for one of the most iconic clubs, one of the best in Europe, and he’s top-notch for them.
“He’s absolutely unique because he is so unpredictable, that’s what makes him great – he can make the difference with a pass or shot. He’s already one of the best.”
Mane was named Liverpool’s player of the season in 2017 after his first year with the club and enjoyed another hugely successful campaign this season, which he capped by becoming the first African player to score in the Champions League final.
His team were on the losing side that day, but Cisse is only thinking positive thoughts ahead of the match against Poland.
“Everyone knows the first game is important – it’s not vital or decisive, though – but we are ready,” said Cisse.
“We know Poland have great individuals but they have some defensive weaknesses and we are one of Africa’s best teams and have lots of assets and no weak parts to our game.”
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski is Poland’s main man but Cisse said Senegal had no “particular plan to stop him, just a collective plan to beat Poland”.
He also said he was confident the continent would one day fulfil Pele’s prediction of an African World Cup winner.
“I’m sure Senegal, Nigeria or another team will be able to win the World Cup just like Brazil and Germany – we have no complexes about this,” he said.
“You can see African players with all the best teams in Europe – we just need more African coaches.”
Senegal are captained by West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate and he revealed that Cisse has been working the team “very, very hard” over the last three weeks but they are now ready to “enjoy the World Cup and give this joy to the Senegalese people”.
Speaking from Abu Dhabi Golf Club where he is appearing at the Global Football Fan Zone during the World Cup, Fowler said: “Ironically there’s probably less pressure on the players this time, because people aren’t saying – as they have in the past – ‘We’ve got a great chance, we can do this, we can do that.’
“I think people are aware that on paper England are not a bad side but they also know there’s many many good nations out there who can perform a little bit better.”
The striker, who scored 128 goals for the Reds in 266 appearances, is full of praise for young manager Gareth Southgate’s “relaxed” management style in stark contrast to previous England managers.
“The fact that Gareth Southgate has played himself,” said Fowler, “he’s played to a good level, he’s played under good managers and he’s treating the players like adults opposed to keeping them locked away.”
“I think he’s letting the players thrive so I think the players go into this competition a lot more confident and feel a bit more free than they were in other tournaments.”
"If we played today, they'd be ready." 💪 #ThreeLions boss Gareth Southgate will speak to the media in Volgograd this evening – but we snuck in a chat with him before we depart Repino. pic.twitter.com/Lf2w2mT8RF— England (@England) June 17, 2018
Fowler is not picking England to win the tournament but in a World Cup with no “standout teams” so far he believes they can make it to the last eight.
“Being an England fan, I fully expect them to get out of the group,” he said, “I actually don’t think they’ll win the tournament, if I’m being totally honest, but from all the games we’ve seen so far I don’t think there’s been many standout teams.
“I know it’s very very early days in the tournament but I think they can go past the group stages and into the quarter finals.
“That is when teams come into their own and start to perform a little bit better and get by with a little bit of confidence.”
The popular 43-year-old said Southgate’s final message to his players before they open their campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd at 22:00 (UAE time) Monday night should be just to be themselves.
.@England's players are so obsessed with #LoveIsland that when told they could receive only four British channels in their hotel, they voted for BBC and ITV to watch the games, Sky Sports News to keep up with club affairs back home… and ITV2. https://t.co/MtpanHqbdy— i newspaper (@theipaper) June 16, 2018
“As any manager will tell you, going into the tournament it’s important you get off to a good start, try and get that win,” he said.
“If you get that win early in the tournament it gives you that little bit more confidence and you’re not pressurized into performing better the second and third game because of what’s happened.
“He’ll tell the players go out there, be who you are, play the way you can and no dis-respect to Tunisia but if the England team turn up, and play the way they can play, then they should win the game.
“I think his team talk is to get as much confidence out of his players as he can.”
Fowler, who scored seven goals for England in 26 caps from 1996-2002, said the World Cup may have come at the right time for England.
“The build-up has been very good from an England point of view as well,” finished Fowler.
“Gareth has said all the right things. The players have all been good, the players have been relaxed, Gareth looks relaxed as well – I think its good timing for England.”
Reporter: "How far away are you from a really good team?"— Tim Bolton (@timbolton1) June 11, 2018
Gareth Southgate: "About 4 hotels".