Rank outsiders Sweden stormed into the World Cup’s round of 16 thanks to a 3-0 win against Mexico, from which El Tri just scraped through.
The Scandinavians’ 95th-minute loss to Germany on Saturday made them unlikely qualifiers at Ekaterinburg Arena. Especially as Mexico had won both their previous Group F fixtures – and in some style.
But after a goalless first half, Janne Andersson’s men burst into life. Full-back Ludwig Augustinsson lashed in on 50 minutes, skipper Andreas Granqvist converted his second penalty of the tournament and defender Edson Alvarez produced a clumsy own goal.
This result sent Sweden into ecstasy as table-toppers and left Mexico requiring an upset from South Korea against the holders, which the Taeguk Warriors duly ensured with an incredible late triumph in Kazan.
MEXICO WILT UNDER SWEDEN PRESSURE
The bombardment of Ekaterinburg will be a day that lives in infamy for Mexico.
There was no element of surprise. This is how Andersson’s Sweden play.
They are compact in defence and then get the ball forward with haste, either in the air or on the ground. Direct and straight to the point in a bludgeoning 4-4-2 formation.
It forces errors like the miskick that led to Augustinsson breaking his international duck, defender Hector Moreno’s wild slide on Marcus Berg for the penalty and Alvarez’s stumble for his own goal.
Sweden only needed 33 per cent of possession to wreak havoc. Goalkeeper Robin Olsen, alone, pumped 29 long balls up the park.
It is a style that famously did for grandees Italy in the play-offs and pushed Germany to the brink at the weekend.
It will also unsettle whomever awaits in the knockouts.
KNOCKED OFF THE TOP OF THE TRI
Mexico came into this match in first place and with dreams of making national history by advancing with three group-stage wins.
They left Ekaterinburg battered and chastened – but still, somehow, in the competition.
Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio sprung a huge surprise and at the 51st time of asking when in charge, named an unchanged side.
But this break from the norm can’t account for Wednesday’s chasing.
The towering Swedes exposed pre-tournament injuries to prominent centre-backs Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo.
Profligate Raul Jimenez could not be trusted up top, meaning a jaded Javier Hernandez – whom sweated nervously about a first-half handball in his own penalty box – wasn’t rested. When winger Hirving Lozano fired blanks, no-one else was able to fill the void.
The only helping hand came from the Koreans. A seventh entry into the World Cup’s knockouts for Mexico now looks far less magnificent.
BERG MELTS, BUT WHO NEEDS ZLATAN?
Russia’s varied television studios and corporate gigs are the only fields being stalked at present by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Veiled by characteristic bombast and typical self-aggrandisement, an unique form of encouragement was provided pre-match for the former team-mates of Sweden’s absent record top-scorer.
“In the beginning, the first games was different because I felt I can do it much better than them, obviously,” he told ESPN. “And still I feel that.”
These words from the international retiree ring hollow when applied to the existing collective.
Sweden found a way past South Korea, showed encouraging spirit in the late, harrowing defeat to Germany and blew Mexico – this World Cup’s feel-good story – away.
But the great man’s aura hung over successor Berg during each one of his 10 scoreless attempts on goal in Group F.
Prolific in qualifying with eight strikes and at Al Ain where he notched 34 times in 31 run-outs, his usual touch must be rediscovered if childhood dreams are to be realised of matching the 1994’s generations charge to the semi-finals.
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