Culture

Swedish football (World Cup 2018)

Swedish football

When Sweden in 1958 hosted the World Cup, they reached the final of the tournament, but then lost to Brazil. And in 1994 they finished third. Was it not for Denmark winning the Euro 92 in Sweden, then I would say Swedish football is the best representative of the Nordic game around.

The Nordic game is heavily inspired by the English and German game. Especially the English. Fairplay, fight, tempo, physique, and never give up. Sweden often and at the moment play a surprisingly flat version of a 4-4-2. Something teams would play maybe 20 years ago. But when you have the physique and will to make it work, then you can make it work.

Unless the other side plays very attacking football, then do not expect a lot of goals. Sweden also often play very close games (unless they are vastly better than their opponent), so a win or loss by more than 1 goal is not something to expect from them

The most important aspect of Swedish football. Well all of Nordic football. Is the team. Everyone works for the unit. What brings results is teamwork. No stars, just hard work. And that is going to be especially important for a Swedish team without longtime superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan was the embodiment of Swedish football for over a decade. Now for the first major international tournament following his retirement, the Swedes look 100% to the team instead of any individual.

Where do the Swedes play?

All over Europe. And 1 in the UAE and 1 in the US. Nobody in the World Cup squad plays in Sweden, and at the moment only one plays in Copenhagen. As FC Copenhagen usually battle Norwegian Rosenborg for being the top Scandinavian side. So Swede will move from their national league just across the Sound to the Danish capital, on their way towards the major Europe leagues.

In those top leagues, they mostly play for the bottom to mid of the table level of clubs. They tend to focus on playing in the big league, but wanting to play and not be a reserves in top teams. This is especially important for the Swedish players in order to maintain their position in the national team.

They do have an up and coming star in each of RB Leipzig and Manchester United, but overall expect Swedes to be more team players than stars.

Political influence and national narrative

Since losing their empire way back when, then Sweden has been neutral and minded its own business. For most countries there is a long passage about politics in the game, but in Scandinavia there is not a lot of politics in football. It might almost seem boring. Sweden’s rival are their Nordic brothers. Norway, Denmark, and Finland. But there is no hate. What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. Anything else is an unacceptable crybaby attitude up north. Emotional weakness is never an excuse for anything. So you play tough, and you whine less, and you play for your country. But there is no war to avenged or all hatred to be settled. Just a bit of banter here and there.

Just to add something, then Sweden knocked Italy out in the 2 home and away playoff to reach the World Cup, after both finished second in their qualification group. So MC?E founders and all of Italy might not be too fond of the Swedes. Especially as Southern European football often looks like a load of whining to most Northern Europeans. Especially Italy has suffered in the past against Scandinavian teams, so do not expect the Italians to cheer for Sweden.

Group and expectations

Sweden scored a single goal at home against Italy. Italy scored nothing over two games. This is what Sweden can do. They can completely kill your game. And they can beat anyone if they get a bit lucky. And I do mean anyone. Italy was one of the potential favourites to win the tournament, as Italy always struggle in qualification, just get through to the knock out stage, and suddenly they are in the final and playing world class football… Not this time.

However, Sweden did not just knock out Italy. They finished ahead of the Netherlands in their group to knock them out, and they even beat group winners (and another World Cup favourite) France at home. If you are looking for a giant killer, then look no further.

Sweden start against South Korea. A team where 18 out of 23 players play in Asian football. All we know is that South Koreans fight on the pitch like North Korea is invading the country. It is a special honour as an athlete to be allowed to avoid the otherwise 2 year mandatory military service. Players are expected to defend with their lives, as their compatriots would do in the trenches would hostilities escalate on the Korean peninsula. Swedes are favourites, but with two style of football so focused on not letting any goals in, and fighting their behinds off if to score if they go down 1. Well, then this could be a very close game, where a Korean surprise is not impossible. But if it did happen, then expect 0-0 in a boring game, rather than the fireworks of Portugal-Spain.

Second game is against Germany, who just lost to Mexico 0-1. Germany are looking for vindication, but they are facing the giant killers. If Sweden beat German, then they only lack the scalps of England and Spain amongst the traditional great European teams. Maybe even get Belgium and Portugal as well (who are the two contenders). The pressure is on Germany, and Sweden knows it, and they will be able to frustrate the German players pushing to get their first goal of the tournament. And they might not get it against Sweden.

Last game is against Mexico. And at this point Sweden might be in a position to go through without scoring a goal. It sounds mad, but if they play 0-0 for three games, Mexico beat the other two teams, and then Korea and the completely collapsing Germany draw against Korea, well then it is possible. Mexico will already be through from the group at this point, since they play Korea next in a game they really should win. So they might be fielding reserves against Sweden.

Before the tournament Group F looked like Germany winning 3 games, Korea losing 3, and Sweden would battle Mexico to go through. But now Mexico have beaten Germany, then everything is up in the air. You have three team, who could really mess up Germany’s World Cup, and the group is completely open at the moment. Mexico are likely to be through based on how their games are dated, but Germany is down 1. As the first European country to lose a game at the 2018 World Cup. Who knows how much Swedish football could make from this world cup. They have historically reached the semi-finals several times, and if they get through from the group it is only because their union is strong. Just like Greece in Euro 2004 and Denmark in Euro 92…

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