Sweden World Cup Preview

World Cup

Sweden produced a huge upset just to get to the World Cup with a play-off victory against Italy over two legs but they won’t be heading to Russia simply to make up the numbers.

Despite being a relatively small nation, with a population of just over nine million, Sweden have a fairly impressive record at the global showpiece having finished as runners-up once and appearing in three further semi-finals.  The northern Europeans haven’t qualified for the event since 2006 however, and will be eager to impress after a 12-year absence from the biggest of stages in international football.

Can Sweden reach the knockout phase?

The Swedes have been handed a fairly kind draw in Group F despite the presence of Germany.  The defending champions will be expected to qualify but Sweden will fancy their chances of taking the other qualifying spot ahead of Mexico and South Korea. The Scandinavians open their account against the Koreans and are 2.20 to claim a victory. That opening match could well hold the key as to whether or not they make it to the knockout phase, as they take on Germany in their second game and may struggle to get any kind of result before another vital game against the Mexicans.

If Sweden can beat the South Koreans, the battle for the final qualification spot is likely to come down to their meeting with Mexico and they will be confident of getting the result they need.  As a northern European nation Sweden arguably have a geographical advantage over their Central American opponents, and player-for-player they have what looks to be a stronger squad on paper at least, with Sweden priced at 3.40 to pick up over four points in the group stages.

Sweden World Cup squad in focus

Coach Janne Andersson has implemented his own style on the Blagult and a change in their approach was required when he took charge in any case as that coincided with the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was the focal point of the side.

Without the former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain striker they have no megastar in their squad but they still have quality players and are now a well-balanced side.  Indeed, Andersson could potentially have recalled the veteran but by all accounts he chose not to even attempt to talk Ibrahimovic into a U-turn and that signals the faith he has in his squad.

Sweden may be lacking a real marquee name but they still have a few creative talents within their ranks and Emil Forsberg is a potential game changer, bringing pace and guile in the wide areas.  The 26-year-old is angling for a move away from Bundesliga club RB Leipzig and the World Cup offers the perfect opportunity to put himself in the shop window.  Toulouse winger Jimmy Durmaz and versatile playmaker Viktor Claesson, who plays his club football in Russia with Krasnodar, also provide a bit of flair to a side that managed 26 goals in 10 games in qualifying.

The European outfit also look incredibly solid at the back and one of their real strengths is their ability to defend as a team.  The midfielders and forwards are all prepared to do their work defensively when required, as was demonstrated in the two clean sheets they managed against the Italians in the play-offs.  Victor Lindelof may have endured a season to forget at Manchester United but he has established himself as a key man for his country regardless, forming an excellent partnership with captain Andreas Granqvist in the heart of their defence.

Sweden’s three goalkeepers have limited experience between them as legendary stopper Andreas Isaksson called time on his career after Euro 2016, alongside Kim Kallstrom and Ibrahimovic in a real changing of the guard. Copenhagen’s Robin Olsen has since established himself as the first-choice in Andersson’s starting line-up and has settled into the role well, having managed seven clean sheets in 12 qualifiers.

One area where the Swedes do look a little light is in attack.  Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg, who are both 31, bring experience to the squad but neither has ever been particularly prolific at international level.  Berg now plays his club football for Al Ain in the UAE and it remains to be seen just how effective he will be against a higher-level of opposition at the World Cup, while Toivonen heads to Russia having failed to score a single goal in 23 appearances for Toulouse in Ligue 1 during 2017-18.

John Guidetti is 12.00 to be Sweden’s top goalscorer and he may well be the main man up front despite the fact he has just one international goal to his name in 20 appearances. The 26-year-old is now with Spanish side Alaves after failing to really kick on from an incredible loan spell at Feyenoord earlier in his career but has retained his place in his country’s squad, with Andersson clearly valuing his link-up play.

Isaac Kiese Thelin is the other forward in the squad and he could be a danger man. Despite being relatively inexperienced at the top level after netting 19 goals in 33 league outings for Waasland-Beveren in Belgium during a loan stay from Anderlecht.

Can Sweden challenge for the trophy?

That lack of a real goalscorer in attack may ultimately mean World Cup glory is out of reach for 276.00 outsiders Sweden in 2018 but they have a real chance of getting out of Group F and from that point everyone has a chance.  There are many different scenarios on how the first three games will pan out but Sweden should be confident of sealing the results they need against Mexico and South Korea without needing to get anything from their clash with the Germans.

Should Sweden finish in second spot in Group F they will face the winner of Group E in their first knockout match – which in all probability will be Brazil.  Sweden are 3.30 to be eliminated in the last 16 and a showdown with the South American heavyweights may prove too much for Andersson’s well-organised squad. However, if they do make it that far they will need to cause a few upsets to reach the latter stages irrespective of who they come up against in Russia.