This article is part of The Guardian’s Euro 2020 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries that rated. theguardian.com is running trailers from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament start on June 11.
“The return of God,” Zlatan Ibrahimovic modestly tweeted when it was announced that he would end a five-year exile from the national team. But then God got injured and the Swedish national team went back to where the year started, which, to be fair, is not a terrible place.
True, the prospect of Ibra playing for Janne Andersson’s team was tantalizing and would have given Sweden an additional lead up front, but they finished second in their Euro 2020 qualifying group behind Spain without him. Now players like Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf and RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg will again take the lead.
As always for Sweden, which this week was shaken by Dejan Kulusevski testing positive for Covid, it is the team that has to win games. The collective has been number one since Andersson took over in 2016. A good example is forward Marcus Berg, who is consistently praised for running and pushing rather than scoring goals. Work hard together, for each other, is the Swedish motto.
“We have to be a team if we want to have a chance against the bigger teams and this is a very strong collective,” says Andersson. When it comes to team selection, there are two important issues. First, who will start up front alongside Berg in the absence of Ibrahimovic? Will it be Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak or Mainz’s top scorer in the Bundesliga, Robin Quaison?
The second, and possibly more important, puzzle is who plays in the center of defense alongside Lindelöf. The captain, Andreas Granqvist, is 36 years old and has barely played in the last 18 months. The feeling is that he was about to be invited for the ride as a player / coach. Andersson greatly values your leadership qualities.
His selection was questioned in Sweden, many felt that a place in the team had been “wasted on someone who had little chance of playing. Granqvist acknowledged that it had not been an obvious choice, saying: “I had my own doubts about whether I should go or not,” but added that he was delighted to have been chosen, even if it seems highly unlikely that he will play.
Brentford’s Pontus Jansson or his former Malmö teammate Filip Helander, who has had an excellent season with the Rangers, are likely to start. Marcus Danielson, now with the Chinese Dalian Pro, is an external option. Whoever enters, has high hopes of being able to leave the group and possibly return to the quarterfinals, like in the 2018 World Cup.
Many athletes have a routine in which they put their equipment in a certain order or lead their games in a certain way. Sweden coach Janne Andersson has his own: every game day, he has a hot dog to eat. And not just any hot dog. During the World Cup in 2018, the team ate specific hot dog buns and Andersson’s favorite cucumber seasoning, brought in from Sweden to satisfy their culinary cravings. Great discipline, he has been a great success since he took office in 2016.
Ibrahimovic would have been the obvious choice, but his possible attacking replacement, Alexander Isak, is the next big thing. The former AIK striker, who turned down Real Madrid to join Dortmund in 2017, is a popular choice when advertisers want to do something with the national team. It’s quieter than Zlatan, but who isn’t? Now in La Liga, he has already scored as many goals there as Ibrahimovic. He appeared in an Adidas ad when he was 17 years old, alongside the NBA’s Gareth Bale and James Harden.
Happy for the delay of a year
A year ago, Filip Helander was the fourth or fifth choice as a central defender, but injuries and the decline in form of some of his teammates led the newly crowned Scottish champion to start the World Cup qualifiers in March. He did well and is now an option for the opening match against Spain. “We know each other well and if we play together everything will be perfect,” Lindelöf said when asked about the possibility of being paired with Helander.
What the fans sing
With every major championship, there is an official song released in Sweden. The best known and loved is When we pan for gold in the US (“When We Search for Gold in America”) of 1994 World Cup fame. In the stands, a favorite chant is Inside with the ball in the goal (“Put the ball in the goal”) by Markoolio. The song was written for Euro 2004 and is sung regularly by the “yellow wall” of fans in Sweden.
What fans say
“If only Zlatan had been there” – If only Zlatan had been here.
“Why does Marcus Berg start?” – Why is Marcus Berg in the starting eleven?
“Launcher on, Launcher on!” – Some things just won’t translate, but kanna it’s a mug of beer … have a look.
Pandemic hero / villain
Last summer, while visiting his hometown of Västerås, Lindelöf witnessed a man on a bicycle rob a 90-year-old woman. The Manchester United defender ran after him, chased him and detained him until the police arrived. “He was very athletic,” the woman said. “It seemed like I could get through a wall just to save myself.” AIK midfielder Sebastian Larsson delivered boxes of food to emergency personnel at a Hospital in Eskilstuna.
Sven Bertil Liljegren and Andréas Sundberg write for the soccer channel.
For a gamer’s guide on Kristoffer Olsson, click here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism