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.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.

Serie A: Roma prep for Liverpool by beating SPAL; Benevento win at Milan

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Premier League preview ]

SPAL 2013 0-3 Roma

A few hours after a reserves-heavy Liverpool side played last-place West Bromwich Albion to a 2-2 draw in the Premier League, Roma, the Reds’ UEFA Champions League semifinal foes beginning Tuesday, hammered 17th-place SPAL on the back of goals scored by Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick.

Roma shocked the world — and Barcelona — to reach the semifinals, but still have a battle on their hands to finish inside Serie A’s top-four and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Following Saturday’s victory, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is three and four points clear of fourth- and fifth-place Lazio and Inter Milan, respectively, though both of the chasing sides play on Sunday.

AC Milan 0-1 Benevento

The 2017-18 season has treated AC Milan, who spent massively last summer, far worse than Roma. Following Sunday’s home defeat to first-year top-flight (and last-place) side Benevento, Gennaro Gattuso’s side sits sixth (final automatic Europa League place) and lead seventh-place Atalanta, who play on Sunday, by just two points.

Pietro Iemmello scored the game’s only goal in the 29th minute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 1-0 Fiorentina

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Cagliari vs. Bologna — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese vs. Crotone — 9 a.m. ET
Juventus vs. Napoli — 2:45 p.m. ET

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.