Adrian Deans is slowly making his way to Russia. Along the way he will be interviewing fans from some of the participating countries and the second instalment is Sweden. Adrian talks to Andreas Palmquist about Sweden’s prospects this summer.
Sweden…land of lakes, forests and polite ex-Vikings. The country that once brought fire and sword to Europe is now better known for IKEA, Volvos and a strong sense of social inclusion. “Everything in moderation,” say the Swedes, but moderation won’t win you a World Cup. Should they be taking Zlatan perhaps?
Adrian: Where exactly does football fit in Swedish culture? How important is the national team to the Swedish people?
Andreas: Football, along with Hockey (the Ice variety) are the most popular team sports in Sweden, and similarly to Australia, sports plays a big part in Swedish culture. Naturally, with Sweden being a small country (10 million), but having a reasonably successful national team, we are passionate about our team. The European Champs and World Cups are well supported at home, and whenever the opportunity arises, supporters travel in large numbers, and touch wood, are usually well behaved. Hey, have you ever met a badly behaved Swede?
Adrian: Yes, I have…her name is Eva.
Andreas: Well, 2018 is the first time we have qualified since Germany 2006, where the Swedes took over Dortmund, Berlin and Cologne during their group games, so hopefully we will be well represented in Russia. About 60,000 Swedes saw Freddie Ljungberg head home the winner against Paraguay in the 90th minute at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. The USA ’94 World Cup is part of Swedish folklore after making the semis and eventually claiming a bronze medal. I have fond memories of people crowding restaurants, bars and streets during those long and warm summer days of ’94…
Adrian: How well are Sweden playing right now?
Andreas: Getting through a European qualifying group these days is not easy. There is only one automatic qualifier and second spot may not even guarantee a play-off spot. We had France and Holland in our group, so to make it through is a feat in itself. We then beat Italy in a home and away tie to qualify. Since then we’ve only played twice, losing against Chile and Romania a few months back, so their form is under question. Hopefully warm up games against Denmark and Peru (both in Australia’s World Cup group incidentally) pre-tournament will show some improvement.
Adrian: Who are your most important players and why?
Andreas: With the big Z (and a host of other experienced players) retiring after a crappy Euro ’16 campaign we didn’t have huge expectations for the near future to be honest. Since Zlatan’s exit, our new Manager, Janne Andersson reverted back to what we do best and that is to play like a unit. There is no room for egos. Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Victor Nilsson-Lindelof (Manchester United) and Marcus Berg (previously Hamburg, PSV and Panathinaikos but now plying his trade in the prestigious UAE league) will hopefully add some individual quality.
Adrian: Are there any emerging new players about to become world class stars?
Andreas: Yep, there are a few hopes for the future. Unfortunately, in true Swedish conservative style, none of them were selected in the World Cup squad. Alexander Isak was sold to Dortmund for 9 million Euros last summer meaning he is the most expensive player ever transferring from the Swedish league. So immediately the Swedish media are comparing him to Zlatan. Pontus Dahlberg is an up-and-coming goalkeeper having just left IFK Gothenburg for Watford in the Premier league. I see some similarities with Maty Ryan in terms of career progression there. And my dark horse is Sam Larsson, who plays for Feyenoord in Holland. His season was interrupted with injuries, so he missed out on WC selection, but check out some of his skills on youtube.
Adrian: How will Sweden set up and play?
Andreas: 4-4-2. Always 4-4-2! Predictable? Yes, probably. But they know their roles and they do it effectively. We are hard to break down, which is why I do have some hope for us against the likes of Korea and Mexico.
Adrian: How do you think they will go in the World Cup? Can they win?
Andreas: Yes. You have to hope, right? In all honesty, making it through the group stage will be seen as a success. We have Korea, Mexico and Germany in our group. A win against the Koreans in the opening game would give us hope. I’m not holding out too much hope for the game against the world number ones, so that would mean a do or die game against Mexico for a spot in the last 16.
Adrian: So there you have it. Sweden playing without stars in a predictable but effective style. Any team that beats Italy home and away is good enough to get out of Sweden’s group but I do wonder who will be getting their goals. Mind you, I also wonder that about Australia.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.