Euro 2012 Group D Preview: Sweden

Country: Sweden
Nickname: Blagult (Blue and Yellow)
Rankings: FIFA (17), Elo (9), SPI (12)
Odds: 66-1
Euro History: Semifinals (1992), Quarterfinal (2004), Qualified (2000, 2008)
Last FIve Tournaments: DNQ – GS – R16 – QF – R16

The Swedes have had sporadic periods of success. Not enduring World War II helped them in the 1940s and 1950s where they won gold in the 1948 Olympics and reached the World Cup semifinals in 1950 and the final as host in 1958. They also reached consecutive semifinals at Euro 1992 and the 1994 World Cup. Presently, the team is in a transition phase after dispatching coach Lars Lagerback, who had been with the team since 2000.

Sweden impressed with uncharacteristically ambitious play during qualifying, but we have yet to see it play out against more talented competition. England and France will certainly provide that.

Qualification: Sweden finished second in qualifying Group E, three points behind the Netherlands. Sweden was the highest ranked second-place team and qualified automatically. They had an 8-2-0 record and in the eight matches not involving San Marino a +9 goal difference. In friendlies, they beat Croatia 3-1 in February and Iceland 3-2 at home last wednesday.

Coach: Sweden are coached by 54-year-old Erik Hamren, who replaced longtime coach Lars Lagerback after Sweden failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Hamren is a technocrat who moved up the managerial ranks without a professional playing career. He won three Swedish cups in the 1990s. He also coached AaB to a Danish league title in 2008 and Rosenborg to Norwegian league titles in 2009 and 2010.

Squad: Henrik Larsson and Freddie Ljungberg aren’t walking out of that tunnel. This team will sink or swim with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’ll be paired up front, likely with Johan Elmander. The midfield should be some combination of Anders Svensson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Kallstrom and Sunderland’s Seb Larsson.

The defense should be veteran Olaf Mellberg with Jonas Olsson in the middle, and Celtic’s Mikael Lustig at right back with Blackburn’s Martin Olsson on the left. The latter has scored four times in eight Swedish appearances. PSV’s Andreas Isaksson should start in goal.

Tactics: The Swedes play a 4-2-3-1. They will be hard-working, organized and defend fairly well. Their major tactical innovation is playing Ibrahimovic behind a lead striker to ensure he’s involved in the buildup play. With a master marksman in Seb Larsson, they’ll also be dangerous on set pieces.

Prognosis: Sweden is not as talented as England or France, though their stability could be an asset for them should either favorite falter. They play England before Rooney returns. An opening win over Ukraine would be huge for them.

Fun Fact: There are more copies of the Ikea catalogue printed per year than the Bible.

Group A: Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Russia
Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal
Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain
Group D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine

[Photos via Getty]

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