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.


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.

Sunderland confirm resignation of manager Dick Advocaat

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Dick Advocaat manager of Sunderland looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and West Ham United at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)
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With rumors swirling of his resignation, Sunderland have confirmed this morning that Dick Advocaat has left his post as Sunderland manager with zero financial compensation despite the protests of the chairman.

Advocaat came on in March as an emergency signing, successfully saving Sunderland from relegation with a solid run of form to finish the season. The 68-year-old Dutchman pondered at length this summer if he wished to continue on, with his wife reportedly urging him to step down, but he chose to continue on with the new season after successful persuasion from the front office.

Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned, with Sunderland sitting 19th in the table, only above Newcastle on goal differential and without a single win on the season. They’ve conceded a whopping 18 goals so far this season through eight league matches.

“I have made the decision to go after only eight games as I felt it was important to give everyone time turn things around – like we did last year,” Advocaat said upon his departure. “I am thankful to the chairman for understanding my feelings and I remain on good terms with everyone at the club.

“I wish Ellis [Short], Lee [Congerton], all of the staff, players and of course the supporters, who made me feel so welcome here, the very best of luck for the rest of the season. I have some wonderful memories to take with me and I hope I will return to see everybody again in the future.”

“I am truly saddened by Dick’s decision,” chairman Ellis Short said, “but I respect him for his honesty and for doing what he feels is right for the club. He is a man of integrity and a true football person. He was hugely respectful of the club in taking this decision and he acted 100% in our best interests. It is also testament to his character that he has forgone any kind of a financial settlement, something which is very unusual in football.”

Meanwhile, the Black Cats have dipped into what is becoming a perennial cycle, making a managerial change for the fourth time in the last four seasons.

Rumors are swirling that a host of experienced Premier League managers could be up for the job, including the currently unemployed Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp. Other linked names include former Leicester manager Nigel Pearson and current Burnley boss Sean Dyche.

Sepp Blatter’s daughter slams media for ruining her father’s reputation

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Sepp Blatter’s daughter blames the media, not her father, for Sepp’s downfall as the head of FIFA and believes he will not step down until the February congress as he initially announced.

“The media has ruined his reputation,” Corinne Blatter told Swiss newspaper Blick. “Why are they picking on him? What did he do to them? … It’s not just envy. It’s hatred.”

A host of major sponsors, including Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa called for Blatter’s immediate resignation as president of FIFA, to which the 79-year-old swiftly rejected. This all came after Blatter was called in by Swiss authorities for questioning after the opening of an investigation surrounding corporate mismanagement charges.

“I was afraid that they now take him away in handcuffs,” Corinne said. “He told me, ‘I must be dreaming.’ A federal policeman assured me that he could after hearing home.”

Blick pressed Corinne on many issues, all of which she defender her father. She refused to comment on many that had to do with the investigation, but did give us this gem when asked how Sepp likes to spend his money.

“He buys shoes and travel bags. He has worked 40 years. His life is modest, without any extravagance. He doesn’t play golf or go sailing.”

Shoes and handbags. What an image.