Sport Soccer

Thursday 21 September 2017

Swedes left baffled by failure to outfox 'useless' midfield

The reaction from Swedish media was quick and damning following the 0-0 stalemate in Stockholm.

"Booed off – and a long way from Rio," was the headline in Aftonbladet, Sweden's most-read newspaper.

"This is not good enough," trumpeted Expressen, with broadsheet newspaper Svenska Dagbladet saying that the ball didn't want to go Sweden's way.

Simon Bank of Aftonbladet, one of Sweden's most respected soccer columnists, described it as "not disastrous for the qualification campaign, but very, very bad."

His colleague Robert Laul, presenter of popular soccer show Bollklubben, said that he was surprised by how poorly the Swedes played technically. "So many passes that went astray – I've never seen that before."

Laul still believes that Sweden will qualify. "They're still one point ahead, but we're down what should have been a home victory. Sweden will have to win in Dublin now.

Olof Lundh of TV4 was equally damning in his judgment. "That Sweden could struggle against what is essentially a useless central midfield is the most surprising thing," he said.

Sweden's desire to put some daylight between the two sides came up short as their game plan short-circuited.

Central midfielders Rasmus Elm and Kim Kallstrom were stifled by the less-heralded paring of Paul Green and James McCarthy and struggled to create a chance of note all night.

Lundh was highly critical of the decision to let both central-midfielders play 90 minutes, citing the alternatives of Pontus Wernbloom and Anders Svensson as being worth a shot.

"Ahead of the game everyone had a go at him but I thought Paul Green was fantastic. He covered the whole central midfield," Pelle Blohm, expert commentator on Sweden's Kanal 5, said after the game.

"That's bad," he said of the result. "You should win your home matches, this was winnable, but they played weakly.

"In general it was a very bad games for Sweden – no aggression, no passing play, no movement. Everything fell apart, so they relied on long balls to a defence that had no problem cleaning them up."

Possibly the player most feared before the game, Blohm said that Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic had one of his worst games in a Swedish shirt, but that Sweden could turn this around.

"I believe so , I suspect that Ireland will be different, more offensive in Dublin, but I believe there's a chance of winning," said Blohm.

"I think they must swap the point they gained here for three there. I get the feeling that teams in this group like Ireland and Austria will take points of one another, and it's so tight in this group.

"You need to win your home games, and, having given away the advantage here, Sweden will need to take it back in Dublin.

After clawing their way back from four goals down against Germany in Berlin, the Swedes expected a tough time against a game Irish side, but most would have taken victory for granted.

But, instead of taking control of second place, this home draw in the first competitive game at the Friends Arena will dent their hopes of qualifying.

Asked if he was hoping for a big showdown in their final group C game against Germany, Hamren was bullish: "No, I hope it's over before that game," suggesting that his side should have secured second place by then.

On the evidence of this performance, the Germans will have little to fear should they need a point or three to take them to Brazil.

Irish Independent

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