Sweden come into Euro 2012 as underdogs to progress from a tough Group D. But they will take confidence from the fact that England arrive on the back of a winter of discontent, whilst France may be hampered by uncertainty over the future of Blanc.
They were impressive qualifiers too, taking the automatic spot reserved for the best runner-up during the group stage. Hamren’s men also inflicted upon Holland their first defeat in 17 qualifiers in a crucial final match during the qualifying . The emergence of John Guidetti has been a bright spot for Sweden, but he is out of Euro 2012 through injury. Much naturally lies on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s shoulders, and though he is one of the most talented players, he is temperamental and prone to inconsistency for his country.
Coach: Erik Hamren
Hamren took over from Lars Lagerback, who had been Sweden’s long serving manager, after the country’s failure to reach the World Cup in 2010. He has adopted a more attacking approach but has found himself with a defence which is not as strong as in past years. It is a quite un-Sweden like team in many ways and Hamren may be tempted to play Ibrahimovic up on front on his own rather than pairing him with another forward after Guidetti’s injury. His team believe though that they can beat anyone, and that will be a particularly useful quality in this group. .
Key Player: Olof Mellberg
The former Aston Villa man is a mainstay of Sweden’s backline. Whereas Ibrahimovic can be infuriating, Hamren will know what he is getting from Mellberg. With bags of experience and over 100 caps for his country, Mellberg’s experience, calm and organisational skill will be crucial in a group in which Sweden will face some tricky forwards. Though the Scandinavians scored 31 goals in qualifying, most came against some of the games minnows, with over a third scored against San Marino .
With a disciplined defensive showing and a deep, organised backline, Sweden are capable of frustrating France and England. Mellberg will be essential to that.
View from Sweden
There is realism in Sweden but also optimism at the more attacking approach Hamren’s team have taken compared to their predecessors. There is also the hard fact that if Sweden can manage to get out of the group, they are likely to face Spain in the last eight, and that the tournament will probably end there for the Scandinavians.
Sweden should cause all of their group opponents problems and should be good enough to scrape a couple of draws. But against England and France and the co-hosts in Ukraine, it is hard to see Sweden being able to pick up enough points to go through. They could well take down a big name with them though.