With a stunning performing, 11 proud Swedes put an end to France unbeaten record of 23 games and regained their honour. This farewell affair was all about Sweden, and France were nowhere near the three points. 15 000 Swedish fans were in the stands and Erik Hamren’s men made sure they would not go home empty-handed. One should remember that this was a motivated French team playing for their qualification as well as not having to face Spain in the quarter-finals. France could have been packing their bags, had Ukraine beaten England.
Third time was the charm for Hamren, who started Ola Toivonen as a No. 9 striker for the first time this tournament. He also started Emir Bajrami (his first appearance in the tournament) out wide to the left. Both players were up to the task, much like the rest of the Swedish players, and France were outplayed. Hamren certainly found the right balance in the team. Even though Zlatan’s goal was a thing of beauty, my man of the match has to be Christian Wilhelmsson, who came on for Bajrami at half-time. This former Roma, and current Al Hilal, midfielder still offers magic on the pitch. He had a field day with the French and set up the second goal.
In this post-match euphoria, there is also a sense of despair. A point from either (!) of the games against Ukraine or England would have sent Sweden to the quarter-finals. This team is not the worst team in group D, even if the group table tells you that. Against France, Sweden showed the trademark defensive strength that had been strangely absent in the previous two games. Combined with the genius of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, Sweden can beat any team in the world. This is known, and was confirmed on Tuesday night.
Before the game I wanted the team to leave some sort of mark at this tournament, and I was not disappointed. Apart from the goal of the tournament, Sweden also played the best football of group D on Tuesday. The Swedish players can get on the plane home with their heads held high and build on this victory ahead of the World Cup qualifiers. And even though they have Germany, who might very well be European champions by then, in the group, this team will have high hopes of reaching the global game's flagship competition. This team will hope to reach Brazil.
Sweden promised to play this tournament with a new, more attack minded football. They didn’t keep that promise. Balls were hoofed long, passing was poor and possession was low. And the Euro 2000 opening game scoreline of 1-2 (against Belgium) was repeated. And as it was then, Sweden might end up bottom of the group, packing their bags early.
All in all it was an abysmal performance from every player on the pitch, with the exception of Ibrahimovic. The tall captain was the only one stepping up to the occasion and his teammates will surely get an earful from both coach Erik Hamrén and Ibrahimovic post match. They will all struggle to look themselves in the mirror after this. And there will definitely be no riding the water slides at the hotel tomorrow.
Before the tournament there has been a debate of who would get the spot along side Olof Mellberg in the centre of defence. Mellberg lost Shevchenko for the equaliser in a poor display of defending. An action such as that has previously been unthinkable by defensive giant Mellberg. He too, will struggle to look himself in the mirror.
Just like in the pretournament games against Iceland and Serbia, Sweden conceded from a corner. If you’re a betting man you would be wise to put your money on Sweden conceding goals from corners against England and France too.
Elmander didn’t start the game but his miss with minutes to go makes you wonder if it wasn’t for the best. There is absolutely nothing from this match that Sweden can take with them into the game against England on Friday.
Sweden will have to break down and rebuild, and Anders Svensson will have to start in central midfield. One can only hope the Swedish players have the pride to come back from this.
To finish this off in a somewhat positive manner, I would take my hat off for Shevchenko. If it was going to be anyone thrashing our hopes to achieve anything this tournament it would be him. What a legend.
One day away from D-Day, the match day for group D that is, Johan Elmander has been given the go-ahead to be able to start against Ukraine. This does not however guarantee that Elmander will be starting the match. It will be up to Elmander to decide if he will be hindered by pain.
My gut feeling is that he will be starting and that would be a welcome return for his team mates. With his many runs deep up the pitch he creates room, and especially for Ibrahimovic. ‘Ibra’ would be the happiest to see Elmander back. His face lights up when he talks about the privileges of playing alongside Elmander.
Apart from Elmandergate the Swedish camp are not struggling with injuries to players. All are fit to such a degree that one wonders if Sweden might be the fittest team of all, at least pre-tournament.
In their first game Sweden will be playing Ukraine. This home nation is in my honest opinion the weakest team in the tournament, and anything but a win would be catastrophic for the Swedes. They will need the three points to be able to challenge for a place in the quarterfinals. And my feeling is that Sweden will score goals against Ukraine’s forth choice goalkeeper. Especially as an eager Elmander will run riot against Ukraine’s slow centre-backs.
Add to that the fact that Sweden enters the tournament on the back of four straight wins (Bahrain, Croatia, Iceland and Serbia) and the Ukraine are haunted by two straight losses (Austria and Turkey) and you have a confidence level that will be higher with the Swedes.
But as I touched upon in my previous entry Sweden will be conceding goals throughout this campaign. Let’s say Voronin scores one, and Sweden put three behind Pyatov, in goal.
As Ukraine, apart from playing the game on their home ground, get the home strip so you will get the privilege of seeing the best looking jersey of the tournament, Sweden’s away shirt. It’s a mix of the classical Peruvian striped national jersey and the Boca Juniors club jersey and if you have not seen it yet, you’re in for a treat.
For those hoping to get a feel of how Sweden stand compared to France, the game against Serbia was a disappointment. Serbia changed 10 (!) players from the line up against France so any attempted at comparisons will be distorted.
Sweden won the match 2-1 after goals by Toivonen and Ibrahimović (penalty) but there are clouds in the sky for the Swedes. Serbia were the better team for the first half and substitutions in the second half make analysis harder for the latter part of the game.
Sweden conceded the goal from a corner and with the tallest team in the upcoming Euros those are not the kind of goals Sweden will want to concede.
I am left with the worrying feeling that Sweden will struggle to keep clean sheets against all the teams in the group. An injury to regular starter Majstorović in central defence in late February has really weakened this team defensively.
There is no obvious replacement and Andreas Granqvist and Jonas Olsson will fight for that spot right up until match day against the Ukraine. Both have been given chances and neither of them has really impressed. Add to that keeper Andreas Isaksson struggling to find his form coming back from an injury to his shoulder and Sweden look genuinely weak at the back.
One can only hope that the attackers carry the weight and score the goals that very much will be needed during the group stage.
On a more amusing note, Aleksandar Kolarov asked Ibrahimović for his shirt when the AC Milan striker was on his way off the pitch in the 81st minute. Funny, as they may play together at the Etihad Stadium next season.