Sweden's spirit emerges from shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as quarter-finals await

Matt Jones - Editor 21:42 03/07/2018
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Sweden snuck into the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1994, with Emil Forsberg’s deflected effort enough to send Switzerland packing in Saint Petersburg.

Chances were squandered with regularity by both sides in a poor display of attacking football, which belied their goal-laden and dramatic encounters in the group stage.

Attacking midfielder Forsberg struck the decisive goal after 66 minutes when he received Ola Toivonen’s square pass and lashed an effort goalwards – it was going straight at Swiss stopper Yann Sommer until Manuel Akanji stuck out a boot and deflected it into the top corner.

Here are three talking points from the match:



Sweden and World Cup success, at least historically, have been synonymous with each other.

At the third edition of the tournament in 1938 they finished fourth. At the next one 12 years later they went one better. On home soil in 1958 it took the emerging genius of 17-year-old Pele, who scored his fifth and sixth goals in the final, for Brazil to triumph 5-2. A podium place was achieved once more at USA ’94.

In the intervening 24 years, however, two paltry round of 16 appearances are all they have to show for their efforts.

A nation of just over 10 million people has produced very few individual icons – perhaps only Henrik Larsson previously.

But in 2001 that all changed when a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovich arrived on the scene.

A totemic and talismanic figure throughout his colourful career, he plundered 62 (the most for his country) goals over the next 15 years, but his brash brilliance overshadowed the mantra of a national team which for so long had been built on collective grit and graft.

But in Russia, once the tide of talk surrounding Ibrahimovic’s possible re-emergence from retirement was quelled by coach Janne Andersson, the spotlight returned to the team rather than any one individual.

RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg is the only thing close to a star player in a squad of misfits.

Marcus Berg plays for Al Ain here in the UAE, while strike partner Ola Toivonen barely featured for a Toulouse side that scraped to safety in Ligue 1 last season.

Key midfielder Sebastian Larsson, meanwhile, is now 33 and was relegated from the Premier League with Sunderland in 2017 and spent last season in the Championship with Hull City.

But in the absence of stardust, team spirit is their star quality, and it has carried them to just a second quarter-final in 60 years.



After being one of the more entertaining and consistent teams in the group phase, Switzerland went out of the World Cup with a bit of a whimper.

Tasked with arguably the most arduous opening fixture of any of the 32 teams in Russia, they were both resplendent and resilient in their 1-1 draw with Brazil – particularly impressive as they fought back to frustrate the Canarinho after Philippe Coutinho’s brilliant opener looked as if it would set the platform for a perfect start from the favourites.

Dominated by Serbia in the opening half of their politically-charged second Group E game, they turned the tables, with Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri netting two eye-catching goals as the Swiss ticked off another fine result.

They may have taken their foot off the pedal in the final clash with Costa Rica, but only an unfortunate own goal from the brilliant Yann Sommer robbed them of the chance to challenge Tite’s troops for top spot.

Coming up against a similar side in Sweden who boast a rock solid defence, married with a propensity for flashes of attacking brilliance, anything seemed possible in what was billed as a tantalising last 16 tussle. But ultimately it failed to deliver, with chances routinely wasted.

Eighteen shots were rained down on Robin Olsen’s goal (six more than Sommer faced) but only four found the target.

All four of Shaqiri’s were wayward. It was left to left-back Ricardo Rodriguez to act as Switzerland’s most accurate shooter, with two on target.

The Swiss remain owners of a rather unwanted statistic. They have not scored in the knockout rounds of a World Cup since 1954 – coincidentally the last time they graced the last eight.


Forsberg (1)

It was a rather belated entrance, but Sweden’s silky schemer has finally shown up at the World Cup. Much was expected of Leipzig’s lynchpin ahead of the tournament after a few stellar seasons shining in the Bundesliga.

He is the only player close to claiming world-class status in this uninspiring Swedish squad, but he did what all top players do, deliver when it matters.

But considering how high he’s flown at club level, his most elevated stat coming into this last 16 clash was that he and teammate Marcus Berg shared the unwanted accolade of firing the most shots at this World Cup without finding the back of the net (Berg still has no goals from 13 shots, Forsberg now has a goal from 14, which is the eighth most shots taken).

Even his goal owed everything to a horribly unfortunate deflection off emerging Borussia Dortmund centre-back Manuel Akanji.

Fouled four times, a pass accuracy of 81.8 per cent that placed him fourth among teammates, one dribble and he did not lose the ball once.

He even affected things at the other end of the pitch, finding himself in the right place at the right time to block Breel Embolo’s header on the line minutes after giving Sweden the lead.

It was a performance that hardly screamed ‘look at me’ ala Ibrahimovich, but he’s now set out his stall. And if further success is to follow for Sweden in Russia, it is upon the wings of their Red Bull talisman that they will fly.

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