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.
Already eliminated from the tournament, Sweden now look to a final match against France. A game that should have been the decider for whether or not Sweden would qualify for the quarter-finals, but turned out not to be. It is worth mentioning that there are a lot of Swedish fans who are travelling for this fixture alone with tickets and hotels booked since long ago. I struggle to think of a more depressing journey.
On a more amusing note, the Swedish fans in Kiev have spent the weekend singing: “We’re better than the Irish”. A display of good humour against a side that has also been eliminated, and thus far also true. Sweden would have to lose the last game by 6 goals for the song to be falsified.
France will feel optimistic about their chances of reaching the quarter-finals. Ukraine have to beat England by no more than one goal, whilst Sweden must win big (at least two goals) for France to be eliminated. I doubt Erik Hamrén and his men have this in mind going into the game.
As a Swede, I do however hope Sweden pull something like this off. Not because I have any quarrel with the French team or country, but because it would be uplifting to see Sweden playing some kind of role at this championship other than the one as whipping boys of group D.
Instead I believe Hamrén will approach this game as a building block for the World Cup qualifiers kicking off this autumn. This is a game at the highest level and even though they have crashed out of the tournament Hamrén will want to milk this game for all that it is worth. The logical decision would therefore be to start the people who will be playing during qualification for Brazil 2014. These are players like Andreas Granqvist and Jonas Olsson instead of Olof Mellberg or Rasmus Elm and Pontus Wernbloom instead of Anders Svensson. It would however be hard to deny a player like Mellberg his last game in the Swedish jersey, if he wants it.
Hamrén will also be reminded of prize money by the chairman of the Swedish FA Karl-Erik Nilsson. €1 million is on offer for a win in the group stage and that is a lot of money for a small footballing nation such as Sweden.
In other news, Jonas Olsson left the Swedish camp after the game against England to be present for the birth of his first child. He came back to Ukraine a father on Sunday and is now available for selection for the game against France. One might argue Olsson could have stayed with his girlfriend and newborn daughter seeing as Sweden are already knocked out. I am puzzled as to whether I love or hate the decision.
In another display of poor defending Sweden lost the game, and all hope. With this second loss the Swedes walk the same path as Ireland and are out of the Euros.
I wrote ahead of the tournament that Sweden would be conceding goals this summer. I was hoping they were going to be able to keep those goals down to one per game. But you cannot concede three goals in a game against England and think that you are going to get away with it.
And with another poor Swedish defensive performance it is somewhat ironic that Olof Mellberg scored both (oh well) of the Swedish goals.
One cannot help but feel for the Swedish fans that travelled in large numbers to Ukraine. On Friday there were 18 000 Swedes in the stands offering full support. They were hoping to keep partying in good spirits for at least another four days but were deprived of that.
All in all the Swedish players worked their hearts out and for me; this loss comes down to coaching. When the Swedes went 2-1 up they were always going to need a miracle to keep a hold of those three points.
This team cannot close a game down. And this manager cannot put on a defensive midfielder (Pontus Wernbloom) when he is a goal up. Erik Hamrén talked in the post match interview about having control throughout the game. Sweden had no control, and neither had England. Sweden came out the unlucky loser.
I want to give credit to Anders Svensson who started the game and showed immense character in the centre of the pitch. He closed down Scott Parker and put a hurting on several other English players.
For the near future Sweden are left with the opportunity of causing trouble for France with a victory. One thing is however certain. They will be giving away goals in that game too.
The tables are set. Sweden need at least a point in the game against England, or they are out of the tournament. And with their backs against the wall the Swedes can lean towards their record against the Three Lions through history.
Sweden have lost just one game against the English the past 40 years (November 2011 in a friendly game). And in competitive games Sweden have not lost since 1908, at the Olympics in London.
However, no history in the world will save a team performing anywhere near the level Sweden did in their opening game against Ukraine. So in this do-or-die game Sweden will have to start showing some character to be able to continue writing history.
There will definitely be changes to the line up for this, the second game. Anders Svensson will probably start in central midfield. Johan Elmander will probably also start, replacing Markus Rosenberg up front.
We may even see Christian Wilhelmsson out on the left wing and Jonas Olsson in central defence with Andreas Granqvist moving out to a fullback position, replacing Mikael Lustig. As many as four changes if Erik Hamrén is bold.
One who definitely will start is Ibrahimovic. And even though England this far has looked a better team, they have no player matching ‘Ibra’ in quality. And that star quality might just be what keeps Sweden in this tournament, at least for four more days.
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.
With the Euros creeping closer there are some interesting aspects from a Swedish point of view to take a closer look at.
Sweden and my favourites to win the group, France, are getting ready for the tournament in very much the same way. We are playing the same teams in friendly games, Iceland and Serbia.
France will also have time to play Estonia as they have had more time together (24 days compared to Sweden’s 18). But these games against Iceland and Serbia are interesting as we get a sense of how Sweden and France compare as teams. And when France struggled to win 3-2 at home against Iceland I was filled with hope and asked myself:
How can France go two down against Iceland at home?
How can Evra and Mexes, playing for top clubs in Europe, be so poor defensively?
And could Sweden put a number on Iceland to get a psychological edge over France?
The first two questions are hard to answer, and I’ll leave them to my French colleague. The last question is a bit easier to answer: No, Sweden couldn’t put a number on Iceland. Sweden repeated the French result of 3-2 and status quo remains between France and Sweden.
France moved on and impressed in their 2-0 victory against Serbia and Sweden will have to work hard to match that result home against Serbia on the 5th of June. I’d say getting a good, or even better result than 2-0 will be of very big importance as France will remember their 3-2 victory away against Sweden in 2008 and be strengthened by the result on that day.
In other news Sweden’s Under 21 team took a hammering against Ukraine’s counterparts on Thursday 6-0 (!). Let's hope Erik Hamrén and his men can avoid such a result on the opening day against Ukraine.