European Championship in focus: Spotlighting Sweden

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Let’s not dance around it. When we think of the Sweden national team, we all think of the same thing:

Man that matters:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: There is no team in this tournament that is as dependent on a single player as Sweden is on Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Thankfully, head coach Erik Hamren realizes this. Rather than employing the conservative, individualism-minimalizing approach of predecessor (Lars Lagerbeck), Hamren’s adopted a more open style that can get the most out of Ibrahimovic, even his star was absent at the beginning of his tenure. But after he convinced the now-captain to come out of his brief retirement, the team has been one of the more dangerous sides in UEFA.

Needing to win their last qualifier to slot directly into Euro 2012 (avoiding a playoff), Sweden registered a 3-2, come-from-behind win against the Netherlands despite playing without a suspended Ibrahimovic. A 3-1, February win in Zagreb reaffirmed the progress Hamren’s made since Sweden failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

Against Croatia, Ibrahimovic posted a goal and two assists. If he’s similarly motivated in Ukraine, Sweden could win their group. If there’s one weakness England, France and Ukraine share, it’s central defenses that came be exploited.

First-round games:

June 11: vs. Ukraine (Kiev, Ukraine)
June 15: vs. England (Kiev, Ukraine)
June 19: vs. France (Kiev, Ukraine)

Foursome of knowledge:

  • Sweden’s main questions are in defense, where veteran Olof Mellberg will be surrounded by doubts. Jonas and Martin Olsson will man the left side, while Celtic’s Mikael Lustig will have to overcome some injury concerns to assume his customary spot on the right. Fortunately for Hamren, neither England nor Ukraine possess enough attacking power to worry the Swedes.
  • France, however, does have enough power, but by the time Sweden face Les Bleus, they could already be into the next round. If Ukraine (Sweden’s first opponent) is as troubled as some suspect, the opener could build momentum. And after facing a Wayne Rooney-less England in their second match, Sweden could be on six points by the time they meet France.
  • Worries about the defense could be tempered by the quality of Sweden’s deep midfielders. Lyon’s Kim Kallstrom is the best of the group, but partner Anders Svensson will bring 126 caps of experience to what will likely be his last major tournament. If either are forced out, Hamren will be able to turn to CSKA Moscow’s Pontus Wernbloom.
  • Sweden has major dark horse potential. If they get out of Group D, their most likely opponents from Group C (Spain, Croatia) will have their own issues trying to match up with Ibrahimovic and Johan Elmander. They’ve only made one semifinal (1992, as tournament hosts), but given how the draw’s worked out this year, Sweden only needs one break to replicate that performance.

Where they are going:

Sweden should expect to get out of their group. It’s just a matter of executing. In a tournament where all the favorites are flawed, Sweden could make a run, provided Ibrahimovic is willing to carry them.

source:
Squad:

Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (PSV), Johan Wiland (Copenhagen), Par Hansson (Helsingborg)

Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Olof Mellberg (Olympiakos), Andreas Granqvist (Genoa), Martin Olsson (Blackburn Rovers), Jonas Olsson (West Bromwich Albion), Mikael Antonsson (Bologna), Behrang Safari (Anderlecht)

Midfielders: Rasmus Elm (AZ), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Anders Svensson (Elfsborg), Kim Kallstrom (Lyon), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Samuel Holmen (Istanbul BB), Christian Wilhelmsson (Al-Hilal)

Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Johan Elmander (Galatasaray), Tobias Hysen (IFK Goteborg), Emir Bajrami (Twente), Ola Toivonen (PSV), Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen)

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

Roma’s Moreno happy as Mexican ambassador to Serie A

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Hector Moreno knows his move to AS Roma is a big deal for him, his club, and his country.

That may seem like a bit too much aggrandization, but Moreno joins the biggest club of his accomplished European career. That club nearly ended the scudetto reign of Juventus last season, coming as close as anyone in recent history.

And he’s the first Mexican to play for Roma, a club a bit higher in the pecking order than the homes for previous El Tri members in Serie A (Carlos Salcedo went on loan to Fiorentina last season, while Miguel Layun spent time at Atalanta and Rafa Marquez played three seasons at Verona).

[ MORE: Strootman loving life at Roma ]

“I know what people expect from me, and the people in Italy will look back at Mexico as a place to find good players if I do well,” Moreno told ProSoccerTalk ahead of the club’s second Stateside match of the International Champions Cup, Tuesday versus Tottenham Hotspur at Red Bull Arena.

“Football in Mexico is lived with so much passion. It’s so important.”

What they’ve seen from the 29-year-old center back gives them every reason to be proud. Moreno has won the Eredivisie with two clubs (AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven) and was Espanyol’s Player of the Year during his first of three campaigns in La Liga.

Moreno’s offensive acumen shone through his second stint in Holland, and the center back who also plays some left back scored seven goals last season.

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

When Roma came calling, he had little hesitation.

“It’s something I have wanted my entire career, for an opportunity like this,” Moreno said. “It’s an amazing challenge to keep going forward in my career.”

Moreno captained El Tri in a 1-1 draw against the United States in World Cup qualifying on June 12, and the Roma signing was announced on June 13. Five days later, he was pushing Mexico over the line with a stoppage time goal against Portugal at the Confederations Cup.

Again, this was about a statement for both him and his country, especially with Mexico in pole position to finish first in CONCACAF World Cup qualification and the desire to make it past the Round of 16 for the first time in seven tournaments.

[ MORE: Conte names Gary Cahill new Chelsea captain ]

“It was a great moment and the feeling was amazing because we fought so hard and we didn’t expect to lose,” Moreno said. “It looks easy to say but with Ronaldo, Ledesma, Pepe, at the end we got a result that we deserved.

“And this will probably help the team to know where we stand because in CONCACAF qualification for World Cup we are almost there and in all due respect it’s a different quality of play than CONCACAF. You can see where you stand and what you have to improve to be on the level. It is the dream forever that we can go to the fifth game, and we can do that in Russia. We’re going to work hard and I hope we can make it.”

It may surprise some to hear that Moreno also hopes El Tri’s heated rivals in the U.S. qualify for Russia as well.

“I hope so,” Moreno quickly replies. “It would make a good tournament. They always make it through and they have such a good team. It’s always (the hope) that Mexico and U.S. can meet in the World Cup, because they have such good talent as well.”

Roma faces Spurs in New Jersey on Tuesday before a July 30 battle with Juventus at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

What’s another $35 million? Man City sign Danilo from Real Madrid

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Danilo will be fulfilling his ambition to play under Pep Guardiola after signing for Manchester City from Real Madrid on Sunday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The versatile Brazilian defender, who can play on either flank as well as at center back, signed a five-year contract to increase City’s threadbare options at full back.

“There has been strong interest from other clubs, but it has always been my ambition to play for Pep Guardiola,” Danilo said. “As soon as I heard of his interest, I knew immediately I wanted to be a City player.”

City has a shortage of wide defenders after releasing Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna last month and then allowing Aleksandar Kolarov to move to Italian side Roma on Saturday. Kyle Walker, who joined from Tottenham, was the only other full back available to City manager Pep Guardiola before the signing of Danilo.

[ MORE: Mourinho quells speculation of Gareth Bale to Man United ]

“Football is very dynamic and it requires quality players in every position, so I think a player who can play in different positions at a good level has an advantage, and becomes very important for the team as well,” said Danilo, who is awaiting his British work permit. “I prefer just to play. I don’t have a favorite position. I am used to playing as right-back but any time I’m on the pitch in the starting 11, I’m always happy.

“He (Guardiola) told me I’m ready and that I can play in several positions, right back, left back, midfield. I just hope to help him out as he expects.”

Danilo is leaving Madrid two years after joining from Porto, having won back-to-back Champions League titles and the Spanish title once. Financial details of the transfer to City were not disclosed.

Conte names Gary Cahill new Chelsea captain

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As expected, Gary Cahill has been named Chelsea’s next skipper following the departure of long-time talisman John Terry this summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho rules out speculation of Bale joining Man United ]

While Cahill is no stranger to captaining his side — which he did for much of last season — the honor has been bestowed upon him on a full-time basis now by manager Antonio Conte as Chelsea prepares for the 2017/18 Premier League campaign.

Conte insists though that while Cahill is the man to wear the armband going forward that the rest of the squad’s elder statesman must also take on leadership roles to help guide the club as they pursue back-to-back PL crowns.

“I think also we can have other captains in our team, it could be [Cesar] Azpilicueta, [David] Luiz, and also, in the future, it could be Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas,” Conte told the Evening Standard.

“I think every single player must improve in this [being personalities in the dressing room] and take more responsibility because we lost big players and we need now to find these new players to create this fundamental for Chelsea. It is very important for our future success to create this base.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Man United to swoop for Verratti?

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With the Premier League season lurking, several of England’s top clubs are looking to put the finishing touches on their summer with quality last-minute signings.

Manchester United has been in the market for a holding midfield this transfer window, with Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic and Eric Dier of Tottenham long linked to the Red Devils, but now another name could be made available to Jose Mourinho.

Marco Verratti is reportedly growing more and more tired at PSG, and while the Italian does still wish to move to Barcelona this summer, he would be open to signing with United if the Blaugrana don’t come calling.


Chelsea could be closing in on another young Brazilian talent, and Blues will be looking to beat out Man United and others for his services.

Fluminense forward Richarlison is the player of interest, and the Blues are prepared to duel with the Red Devils and AC Milan in order to secure the 20-year-old’s signature.


Meanwhile, Juventus is looking to Liverpool’s Emre Can to help out in the midfield after a strong season for the Reds in the Premier League.