Marcus Berg on turning childhood dreams into reality for Sweden at World Cup 2018

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Marcus Berg in action for Sweden.

A seven-year-old child watches transfixed at his family home that is packed full of life and excitement.

This sense of wonderment cannot be diminished by a sizeable time difference pushing several kick-offs beyond even Scandinavia’s endless daylight hours at that time of year.

Almost 8,000 kilometres away, Sweden’s unlikely heroes are lighting up a sun-kissed summer at World Cup 1994.

This ‘Golden Generation’ of eccentric goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli, forward Tomas Brolin – possessed of infamously ephemeral talent – and long-limbed centre forward Kennet Andersson were supposed to have spurned their best chance of success at Euro 1992.

They instead embarked on a remarkable run in America only ended at the semi-final stage by striker Romario’s late, unmarked header for Brazil – the eventual champions. Back home, life was never to be the same for Marcus Berg.

Those memories act as fuel for a journey that sees the now 31-year-old poised to lead the line for Blagult (The Blue-Yellow) at his first World Cup after a prolific and trophy laden debut campaign in the UAE at Al Ain.

“It was something that is so special to my generation,” the centre forward exclusively tells Sport360. “Everyone remembers that World Cup.

“It was in the United States, so it was [shown on television] in the night in Sweden. “We woke up and had friends or family over every night. They made a really good World Cup, so of course we hope and dream to have another World Cup like them.

“I was seven-years old. At that time, Sweden were not favourites and had players who were struggling a little bit.

“But they did a very good World Cup and this is something we must also believe in that we can do.

“I had a dream to become a footballer when I was young and to see that Sweden could make good results in the World Cup, it was a fantastic moment. It was also something that stayed in the memory, all days since I grew up.

“I hoped and believed that I could play a World Cup – and now I will. This is a very, very fantastic thing.”

Berg arrives in Russia this month as a striker who has come into his own. The false starts experienced at Hamburg and PSV Eindhoven after his Golden Boot success at 2009’s European Under-21 Championship are consigned to the past.

Sweden's forward Marcus Berg (c) reacts during a training session for Sweden.

Sweden’s forward Marcus Berg (c) reacts during a training session for Sweden.

So is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. One of the 21st-century’s giant sporting figures will definitely not be present, despite months of characteristic flirtations.

This decision by Sweden’s 62-goal record scorer has ensured Berg will no longer be a mere foil. In Ibrahimovic’s absence throughout qualifying, a vital eight goals helped set his nation on a course to defeating Italy in the play-offs. This result ended the Azzurri’s continuous 60-year record of participation, plus their Scandinavian opponent’s 12-year disappearance from the tournament.

For Berg, it is vital the likes of himself and emerging RB Leipzig winger Emil Forsberg embraced responsibility by emerging from the great man’s shadow.

“I think it was expected,” he says of Ibrahimovic’s teased decision. “He said ‘no’ and didn’t play in the whole of qualifications.

“He had made some interviews in the last months that maybe indicated that he wanted to come back. But I think it was more like a show from his side.

“It is sad for all who love football, because he’s still a fantastic player. He is also a big role model and inspiration for a lot of kids in the world.

Marcus Berg comes into the World Cup after a prolific debut campaign at Al Ain.

Marcus Berg comes into the World Cup after a prolific debut campaign at Al Ain.

“A lot of games we could just rely on him that he would make it for us. Sometimes, that is not only positive for a team.

“When he quit, a lot of players took steps forward and took more responsibility. That is normal.”

Berg was lured away last June from Greece’s Panathinaikos, where he’d struck 95 times in 151 matches. The Boss’ €3 million (Dh12.9m) investment was rewarded by 34 goals in 31 matches, plus a club-first double of the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup.

This move to the Middle East in a World Cup season led to inevitable dissenting voices about a drop in competitiveness. Berg insists he couldn’t have provided a better retort.

He says: “What more can I do apart from scoring goals and working hard? That is what I tried to do.

“Always, people will speak. But in Europe, people don’t know the league here [UAE] or the AFC Champions League.”

Head coach Janne Andersson’s current crop have been placed into Group F.

Holders Germany should storm into top spot, yet little separates Sweden, Mexico and South Korea.

Enthusiasm moulded by cherished memories forged 24 years ago, Berg unsurprisingly believes “everything can happen” in the coming weeks.

“It is a tough group, of course,” says Berg. “But it could be more difficult.

“Our first game is against South Korea and that is a very crucial game.

“In a World Cup, you have to aim to pass the group. After that, everything can happen.”

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