Andreas Granqvist and Manuel Akanji are rocks solid Sweden and Switzerland's success is built on

Matt Jones - Editor 08:31 03/07/2018
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Sweden and Switzerland have flown somewhat under the radar in Russia so far, but both deserve huge credit for making the World Cup’s round of 16.

Sweden were unlucky to lose to Germany, but had the last laugh when the champions were sent packing by South Korea, with a 3-0 trouncing of Mexico seeing them emerge as Group F winners.

Sweden, meanwhile, held Brazil to a 1-1 draw in their opener and beat Serbia and Costa Rica to finish as runners-up behind the Samba Boys.

Both sides have been sturdy so far, but something will have to give between two rock solid sides when they meet in Saint Petersburg.

Here, we look at the key protagonists in this game (18:00 kick-off in UAE on Tuesday).

ANDREAS GRANQVIST V MANUEL AKANJI

He looks more like someone you’d encounter down the park when featuring for your Sunday league side. From some angles it appears as if the balding Granqvist is even rocking the dad bod, but he’s been absolutely rock solid for Sweden as they reduced rampant Mexico to rubble in their final Group F encounter to finish top of the pile.

He scored the crucial only goal of the game from the penalty spot as they got off to a flyer, beating South Korea. The 33-year-old was then immense as Germany were thwarted in the second-half of the second game, before Toni Kroos’ late rocket. But the Helsingborg stalwart struck another venomous penalty as mighty Mexico were trounced in the final game as Sweden qualified, surprisingly, as winners.

Akanji, meanwhile, would have no trouble convincing most critics that he’s been playing at the heart of this Swiss defence for years.

The 22-year-old is in the top three for tackles (3.3), interceptions (1.3) and clearances (2.7) and fourth for blocks (0.3) per game among teammates at the World Cup – yet this will be just his 11th cap after debuting last year.

The Borussia Dortmund prospect is providing substance and style at a position where Switzerland have tended to struggle for the best part of a decade – with Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos continuously failing to convince.

EMIL FORSBERG V XHERDAN SHAQIRI

He’s sometimes confused for someone who might be carrying an extra few kilograms, but Xherdan Shaqiri displayed his searing pace when he cut through the Serbia defence like a hot knife through a block of Swiss cheese as he scored the crucial winner in the second group game.

He struggled as Stoke City battled against Premier League relegation last season, but he’s shown his class in Russia so far and will be a key figure once again as the Swiss look to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in 64 years.

In a team renowned for their stoic strength of mind and physicality, he provides a real cutting edge.

Forsberg, meanwhile, has been excellent for the Swedes, but they too have reached the last 16 based largely on their defensive solidity and teamwork.

As they have tried to make themselves hard to beat, the cunning of RB Leipzig’s creative hub has often struggled to shine beneath the grit and graft.

But with the shackles now cast aside with the knockouts reached and every game now decisive, expect him to come to the fore. His incisive runs and passing will be key to unlocking a Swiss side that runs like clockwork.

MARCUS BERG V BREEL EMBOLO

01 07 key battles Sweden v Switzerland 3

There may not be a player more deserving of a goal who is yet to get on the scoresheet in Russia than Berg. He has been at his bustling best as he’s proven a physical mismatch for his markers, despite not being the burliest.

His off the ball running and energy has been a real benefit to Sweden and he was instrumental as Germany snatched an undeserved 2-1 win in the second group game.

Had Jerome Boateng been rightly sent off for taking out Berg and a penalty given, the scoreline might have had a very different look.

The striker plays for UAE side Al Ain and is going through a dry spell for his national team. He has not scored in 2018, with his barren patch starting after he netted four in the commanding 8-0 win over Luxembourg last October.

Breel Embolo has shown flashes of brilliance in two substitute outings so far, but has failed to capitalise on being thrust into the limelight two summers ago, pegged as the next Swiss sensation. It hasn’t quite worked for him yet, but at only 21 he has time on his side. Could be a difference maker on what is expected to be his second start.

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