Euro 2016 Fantasy Preview: Sweden
Sweden means Zlatan Ibrahimović, with the 34-year-old striker potentially playing in a major international tournament for the final time in what has been a glittering individual career.
Even coach Erik Hamrén accepts that Ibrahimović is the only world-class player in his squad, but despite his advanced age Ibrahimović retains the star power to light up the competition.
Build-up for Sweden has been affected by a freak injury suffered by Hamburg midfielder Albin Ekdal, who suffered a deep gash in his back after falling on to a glass table-top.
A handful of Sweden players – Ludwig Augustinsson, Patrik Carlgren, John Guidetti, Oscar Hiljemark, Oscar Lewicki and Victor Lindelöf – were part of the title-winning side at the European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic last summer and have broken through together.
Drawn with Italy, Belgium and Republic of Ireland, Sweden have arguably the toughest section in the tournament and could struggle to make it through the group stage – what should fantasy football fans expect from Sweden this summer?
Likely tactics and formation
Hamrén is expected to set up Sweden with a fairly standard 4-4-2 system that aims to get the best out of Ibrahimović, with the wide midfielders tucking in to allow the full-backs to get forward.
The Blågult midfield may lack inspiration but Sweden are hard workers and will press the opposition as hard as possible, forcing errors and winning the ball high up the pitch.
Sweden were perhaps fortunate to qualify for the tournament and were among the beneficiaries of the expansion from 16 to 24 nations, as they finished third in an average-looking Group G, behind winners Austria and Russia, knocking out fellow Scandinavians Denmark in a play-off.
Hamrén’s men conceded four more goals than both Austria and Russia despite Montenegro, Moldova and Liechtenstein featuring in the group, with the defence a major concern for the Euros.
Hamrén will have to find the right mix between experience and youth, with a number of young players likely to be included in the team, particularly the impressive 21-year-old defender Lindelöf.
Ibrahimović is certain to start up front after hitting 50 goals for Paris Saint-Germain in his last season at the club, with a move to Manchester United to link up with José Mourinho again potentially on the cards.
Sweden’s midfield is likely to be built around Kim Källström, who now plays for Grasshoppers.
Andreas Isaksson of Kasımpaşa is currently Sweden’s number one, with the goalkeeper also the most-capped player in the 23-man squad after picking up 128 appearances to date for his side.
Sweden will be hoping that the 34-year-old, who used to be on the books at Manchester City, will stay fit throughout the tournament as his deputies, Copenhagen’s Robin Olsen and Patrik Carlgren of AIK Solna have only four caps for their country between them.
Defence is probably the weakest area of the Sweden squad, but the emergence of Lindelöf gives Hamrén a boost, assuming the cautious coach is bold enough to select the Benfica youngster.
Marcus Olsson is a threat coming forward from left-back, although he does get caught out of position too much at times, with Celtic’s Mikael Lustig, who has 50 caps, likely to be the right-back.
Krasnodar’s Andreas Granqvist is expected to start in the heart of the Sweden defence, due to the lack of experience in the alternative centre-backs who have been included in Hamrén’s squad.
Källström is the most recognisable name in the crop of midfielders included in Sweden’s 23-man squad and he will add to his impressive collection of 127 caps at Euro 2016.
With the 33-year-old lacking energy due to his age, Oscar Hiljemark of Palermo could get the nod alongside him in midfield, with Oscar Lewicki from Malmö another option, along with 50-cap defensive midfielder Pontus Wernbloom, who plays his club football for CSKA Moscow.
Sebastian Larsson is likely to be included for his crossing ability and skill from set pieces, but Hamrén does not have many great wide options, which could mean Olsson is selected on the left side of midfield, creating a place in the back line for 22-year-old Augustinsson.
Captain Ibrahimović scored 11 of Sweden’s 19 goals in qualifying, including three in the two-legged play-off against Denmark that booked his team a place in the finals of Euro 2016.
His 62 international goals is by far and away a record for Sweden and he has been named his country’s Swedish player of the year 10 times. There is no doubting the size of his talent – and ego – with an international goals to games ratio of better than one strike for every two of his 112 caps.
Alongside Ibrahimović is likely to be the wily Panathinaikos forward Marcus Berg, who has a decent record of nine goals from 37 caps for Sweden.
Emir Kujovic and John Guidetti, the other strikers included in Sweden’s selection, have only hit one goal in their 10 collective caps, so are unlikely to worry too many defences from the bench.
Wingers Erkan Zengin, Emil Forsberg and Jimmy Durmaz all prefer to operate on the left side of midfield, lending a slightly imbalanced look to the attacking options available to Hamrén.
Defensive cover is provided by Pontus Jansson of Torino and Copenhagen’s Erik Johansson.
Sunderland’s Larsson is a set-piece taker of some repute, but there is no doubt who will be standing over any free-kick within striking distance of goal for Sweden at Euro 2016 this summer.
Ibrahimović’s status as both the captain and star player of the team means the veteran will get first refusal of any free-kick he fancies and he will take any penalties his team is able to win too. During his glittering career, Ibra has failed to convert only nine of the 75 penalties he has taken.
Larsson might well get to take corners for Sweden if Ibrahimović decides he would be more useful in the box, with Källström the other main set-piece option available to Hamrén this summer.