Getting to know Sweden: Blagult (The Blue-Yellow) haven’t been to the World Cup since the 2006 in Germany, where they reached the round of 16 and were eliminated by the host nation, while qualifying for the last five European Championships (one knockout appearance – 2004).
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Janne Andersson has assembled and deployed a formidable defensive unit which conceded just nine goals in 12 qualifiers, including their defeat of Italy in the qualification playoffs in November. On the other end of the field, the Swedes netted 26 times, besting everyone in Group A, including the eventual group winners, France, whom they beat 2-1 at home and lost to 2-1 away. Andreas Granqvist, who’ll partner Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof in the center of defense, is the captain.
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What group are they in? Group F, with the defending World Cup winners, Germany; CONCACAF’s best, Mexico; and arguably Asia’s best, South Korea. Perhaps (one of) this year’s group(s) of death, it’ll be an uphill battle for 270 minutes to scrape and claw away anything and everything they can get.
Game schedule – Group F – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here
Monday, June 18: Sweden vs. South Korea, Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET
Saturday, June 23: Germany vs. Sweden, Sochi, 2 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 27: Mexico vs. Sweden, Yekaterinburg, 10 a.m. ET
Projected lineup (4-4-2) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full
—– Olsen —–
— Lustig — Lindelof — Gronqvist —Augustinsson —
— Claesson — Ekdal — Larsson — Forsberg —
—— Berg —— Toivonen ——
Star player: Emil Forsberg – The 26-year-old winger is coming off an injury-plagued season (nearly two months missed due to core muscle injury), and his least productive one in his three years, for sixth-place Bundesliga finishers RB Leipzig. Forsberg racked up more than 50 goals in under 200 games while playing six seasons in Sweden before making the move to Germany, where he’s made more than 30 appearances each of the last three seasons (goal tallies of eight, eight and five). He’ll play on the left and look to cut inside, providing left back Ludwig Augustinsson all the space in the world on the overlap.
Manager: Janne Andersson – The 55-year-old spent more than 15 years playing in Sweden and has been managing in his homeland ever since, rising to the national team job following EURO 2016.
Secret weapon: Viktor Claesson – The 26-year-old winger, who’ll line up opposite Forsberg, has starred for the last year and a half at Krasnodar in Russia, where he bagged a dozen goals this season, including two in the Europa League and 10 in league play. Both Claesson and Forsberg will attack wide and provide width with an eye toward funneling everything to Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg.
Prediction: The clearest path to finishing second and advancing to the knockout rounds is as follows: beat South Korea, draw Mexico, take a narrow-margin defeat against Germany, and hope Mexico get hammered by the defending world champions, opening the door for a goal-differential decision. In short, it’s a long shot, but not wholly unrealistic.