With the clock ticking down towards the final quarter of the Round of 16 clash between Sweden and Switzerland, Emil Forsberg found some space in front of the Swiss penalty area. A few seconds later, Forsberg scored. The ball took a big deflection, it was the most Swedish goal you’ll see at this World Cup but one that has now taken the Baltic nation into the quarter-finals, a first in 24 years.
Forsberg couldn’t have picked a better time to underline his importance to the Sweden squad. Although Janne Andersson’s team are a collection of functional individuals who operate together like clockwork, Forsberg is the big name and in Saint Petersburg, the RB Leipzig midfielder almost didn’t score only to be helped by Swiss defender Manuel Akanji’s deflection.
It was Forsberg’s first direct goal contribution at this World Cup, and what a significant contribution it turned out to be. In a game that cried for invention and magic, it wasn’t Forsberg who had been expected to provide it. There was Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri waiting to seize the moment which never arrived.
The Swedes expertly cancelled out anything that their opponents threw at them, controlling the pace of the game and making it difficult for Switzerland to build attacks of any cohesion. Stifling star man Shaqiri was the priority and here too, Forsberg did his bit, ensuring the Stoke City man was never found with the ball in dangerous pockets of space.
Forsberg, stationed in his natural left midfield position, provided the perfect cover shadow for Shaqiri. Switzerland, whose build-up play oftentimes sees their centre-back advancing with the ball to pass it to Shaqiri in the right channel further forward to advance play, failed to do so on this occasion. While a lot of that could be attributed to the absence of regular right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, Forsberg and left-back Ludwig Augustinsson were unrelenting in not affording spaces to their opponents, particularly Shaqiri, on their side.
As a result, Shaqiri was forced to move into central areas where it became increasingly difficult for Switzerland to break Sweden’s central block.
Of course, it was all part of Sweden’s plan. As Andersson explained after the match, “He (Forsberg) is one of several players who is there to create decisive actions and he is doing really well. He has developed and, in every part of his game, he contributes in so many ways,” the RB Leipzig midfielder is just another cog – a vital cog nonetheless – in the well-oiled Blagult machine, both in attack and in defence.
Forsberg might not act the team’s big dog like the retired Zlatan Ibrahimovic but in his first World Cup finals, the midfielder has carried Sweden further than Ibrahimovic had ever done in his illustrious career.
Switzerland’s wide focus fails them
Against Sweden, Switzerland attempted the second highest number of crosses (39) in a single match at this World Cup that was a departure from their usual, aggressive brand of football. At the St Petersburg Stadium, the Swiss were barely left them with an option to play their preferred way, thereby resorting to football’s most basic method of chance creation – crossing.
Vladimir Petkovic likes his team to press the opposition high up the pitch. Switzerland were among the top three teams in the group stage in terms of regaining possession in the attacking third. On Tuesday, however, they weren’t left with much of a choice. Sweden decided to forego playing in their own defensive third to neutralize the Swiss’ press. Switzerland had nothing to press since the Swedes rarely kept the ball near their end of the goal.
Andersson’s men instead went long in build-up play, a ploy that proved highly effective with their two big centre-forwards and forced Switzerland to attack from wide areas through crosses. It was notable that their starting centre-forward – lone striker Josip Drmic – had only one touch inside the Sweden box, suggesting how the Swiss were tactically outmanoeuvred by a compact and intelligent Sweden.
Sweden will now face England in the quarter-finals as another battle of contrasting styles awaits. As Forsberg emphasised post-match, “If we can get everything right, we know we can be really, really good in defence and attack,” Sweden’s strength of the collective is what is driving them on to bigger stages. Add to that a bit of Forsberg stardust, and the Swedes can dare to dream, just like they did against Switzerland.
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Updated Date: Jul 04, 2018 12:29:58 IST