MX23RW : Thursday, August 16 16:07:55

World Cup preview: Sweden

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole previews Sweden's chances as they return to the tournament following a 12-year absence.

Sweden will make a welcome return to the biggest stage in football this summer when they participate in the World Cup for the first time since 2006.

Now without arguably their greatest ever player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes nonetheless came through a difficult qualifying group to earn their place on the plane to Russia.

The Sweden team line up before their friendly game with Denmark on June 2, 2018© Reuters

Hopes of relative success at the tournament will have been boosted by the fact that they have beaten the likes of the Netherlands and Italy to their World Cup spot, and they will be eager to make up for lost time following their 12-year absence.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Sweden's chances at Russia 2018.


GROUP

Group F throws up an interesting dynamic with holders Germany expected to top the group, but Mexico, Sweden and South Korea all fancying their chances of at least second place too.

World Cup Group F

Sweden may have even higher aims considering which teams they beat en route to the tournament, particularly as top spot in the group is likely to mean avoiding Brazil in the last 16.

However, if results go as expected then Sweden - who start with the easiest match on paper against South Korea - could find themselves in a final matchday showdown with Mexico for second place.

SWEDEN FIXTURES

June 18: Sweden vs. South Korea (1pm, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod)
June 23: Germany vs. Sweden (7pm, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)
June 27: Mexico vs. Sweden (3pm, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Swedish fans may have feared another four years in the World Cup wilderness when they were drawn in qualifying Group A alongside France and the Netherlands, but six wins from their 10 outings was enough to earn them a playoff place.

A draw with Netherlands in their opening match was followed by wins over Luxembourg and Bulgaria before their first setback of the section saw them lose in Paris to group favourites France.

Sweden players celebrate qualifying for the 2018 World Cup courtesy of beating Italy in November 2018© Reuters

Sweden avenged that defeat and went top of the group with a dramatic win over the French in June 2017 - courtesy of a last-gasp Ola Toivonen winner from inside his own half - although that was followed by defeat to Bulgaria in the very next game.

Netherlands' own struggles for consistency ensured that Sweden remained ahead of them in the standings, and an 8-0 win over Luxembourg in their penultimate match saw them all but guaranteed second place behind France.

Three points still separated Netherlands and Sweden going into their final game, but goal difference meant that the Dutch would have needed to win by a seven-goal margin to leapfrog Sweden into second place - something they unsurprisingly fell well short of with a 2-0 win.

Having done so much hard work to book their place in the playoffs, Sweden were then handed the unenviable task of facing four-time World Cup winners Italy, but a 1-0 win in Stockholm - courtesy of a Jakob Johansson goal - proved to be enough as the Swedes held out for a goalless draw in the return leg in Milan.


RECENT FORM

Back-to-back goalless draws heading into their first finals participation in more than a decade is probably not what Janne Andersson had planned following that famous win against Italy.

The Swedes were unable to find a way past Denmark and Peru, registering a combined two shots on target across those final preparation games.

Sweden in action during the international friendly with Peru in June 2018© Reuters

Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen started both games up front, with the former - now plying his trade with Al Ain in Abu Dhabi - also used from the off in the 1-0 loss to Romania at the end of March.

Going further back, Andersson's charges have lost two and drawn two since booking their place in France, meaning that they will have to put the form book to one side if they are to maintain their impressive group-stage record from the past 14 years.


SQUAD

Sweden World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea).

Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnador), Martin Olsson (Swansea), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Filip Helander, Emil Krafth (both Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds United).

Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson (Hull), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Viktor Claesson (Krasnador), Marcus Rohden (Crotone), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse).

Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren).


STAR PLAYER - Emil Forsberg

Emil Forsberg in action for Sweden on November 13, 2017© Reuters

A category so often filled by Ibrahimovic, it is now time for a new hero of Swedish football to come to the fore, and in Emil Forsberg the Scandinavian outfit have a real gem in their ranks.

Forsberg is the opposite to Ibrahimovic in many ways, happy to go about his business away from the spotlight, yet on the field his ability has attracted plenty of headlines.

Arsenal are rumoured to be lining up a big-money deal ahead of next season, but they would be wise to move quickly as the RB Leipzig man's valuation is only likely to skyrocket with some decent showings in Russia.

In a side that can often lack inspiration in the middle of the field, the 26-year-old has to work overtime to create openings - 2.6 chances created per game in the Bundesliga last term suggests that he is ready to step up.


MANAGER - Janne Andersson

Sweden manager Janne Andersson on November 13, 2017© Reuters

Andersson took over Sweden following their failure to qualify from the group stages at Euro 2016, and he has since helped them see off two World Cup heavyweights on their way to this summer's tournament.

The 55-year-old has previous experience of upsetting the odds as he will be trying to do again in Russia, having steered IFK Norrkoping to an unexpected title success in 2015.

Andersson had been in charge of the club since 2011, having previously spent time at a number of other Swedish teams, the bulk of which came with Halmstads BK.

A player of little repute, Andersson had no previous international experience before his appointment, but he has so far impressed in his role of national team manager.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Runners-up (1958)

Sweden's players celebrate after the third-placed playoff at the 1994 World Cup© Reuters

Sweden's World Cup history is not as renowned as many other nations, but they have reached the last four of the competition on four previous occasions and went all the way to the final as hosts in 1958.

On that occasion 60 years ago they were beaten by a Pele-inspired Brazil in the final, having overcome holders West Germany and a Soviet Union team who would be crowned European champions two years later.

Sweden also finished third in 1950 and 1994 - the latter tournament of which saw them lose to eventual champions Brazil in the semi-finals - while in 1938 they secured a fourth-placed finish after thrashing Cuba 8-0 in the quarter-finals.

The Blagult failed to qualify for the past two World Cups, but prior to that they reached the last 16 in 2002 and 2006, being eliminated by Senegal and hosts Germany respectively in those two tournaments.

Overall Sweden have played 46 World Cup matches, winning 16 of those with 13 draws, 17 defeats, 74 goals scored and 69 conceded.


PREDICTION

Qualification from Group F is by no means beyond the realms of possibility for Sweden, but we're backing Germany and Mexico to claim the top two spots and the Scandinavians to just miss out.

VERDICT: Third in Group F

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How far will Sweden go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
33.3%
Last 16
33.3%
Quarter-finals
0.0%
Semi-finals
0.0%
Runners-up
0.0%
Winners
33.3%
Zlatan Ibrahimovic gives the thumbs-up ahead of the Premier League game between Manchester United and Newcastle United on November 18, 2017
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