Saturday 25 May 2019

Fearless Sweden happy to go under radar

"If you Google 'team', you'll get a picture of us," John Guidetti added, neatly summarising the mood around the camp.

Ed Maylon

Perhaps Sweden's biggest test, in their biggest game, is to just keep doing what they've been doing.

Underdogs against Switzerland according to Fifa world ranking and the bookmakers, Janne Anderson's men are still struggling to get the respect they deserve from the outside world, but within it they believe anything is possible.

It is fitting, perhaps, that their most memorable World Cup moment so far came when they were the backdrop, the vanquished pretender as Toni Kroos's last-gasp winner set the group stage ablaze in Kazan.

That is Sweden's role, it seems; the bridesmaid, the extra, the painting on the wall.

And, while Anderson is happy for his side to occupy that place it is worth remembering that this is the team that has already accounted for the Netherlands, Italy and Germany on the route to the World Cup knockout stages. There are very few bigger scalps left.

Sweden won a difficult group and yet they continue to be ignored due to the lack of big-name players, even if the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have ultimately made this a better team.

There is something of the 'Ewing Theory' about post-Zlatan Sweden.

Originally applied to American sports, the theory states that when a team is excessively reliant on a superstar player, too heavily committed to featuring them, it takes away from team performance.

When that star is removed by injury, retirement or similar there is a sudden uptick and the Swedes appear to confirm this hypothesis quite nicely.

It was a "rebuild from scratch", Anderson says but a rebuild that has produced the best results in a decade.

"If you Google 'team', you'll get a picture of us," John Guidetti added, neatly summarising the mood around the camp.

That wasn't necessarily the case with Ibrahimovic's continent-sized ego sucking the joy out of the national team.

They are a united side who know their limitations but for Sweden there is a belief that with the bigger, more-fancied teams dropping like flies in the shape of Spain, Argentina, Portugal and those pesky Germans, a chance of history could open up.

King of the understated, Sweden coach Anderson doesn't want to say that they have a shot at matching the semi-final they reached at USA '94, but he did suggest that it could be an end to the elite teams winning every title.

"Some of the results are purely fascinating, and it really shows that the greatest, biggest nations won't win all the time. That, to me, is a source of inspiration if anything."

On the softer side of the draw, Sweden know they have a chance. It is Switzerland who stand in their way, but they measure up like just another favourite to be conquered on the understated path to stepping out of Zlatan's shadow. (© Independent News Service)

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