Sweden are barely missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Their five goals so far at the FIFA World Cup in Russia may have come from the feet and heads of four different players, including an own goal, but there is a sense of unity and team spirit in the Sweden camp, embodied none more so than by their lumbering, almost-spent-yet-indomitable captain Andreas Granqvist.
The 33-year-old will be the oldest Swede to take the pitch in Sweden’s Round-of-16 clash against Switzerland but comes into the game as his team’s top-scorer in Russia. The man who was one of a few to stand up to Ibrahimovic’s ego in the dressing room will need every ounce of his leadership to carry this limited — but disciplined — Sweden into the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1994.
As Granqvist stressed pre-match, “We are in the Round of 16 not only because of an incredibly strong collective defence, but also because we have dared in the attacking game,” Sweden’s defensive resilience has been complemented by an attack that has also been hitting the right notes.
The Blagult have scored fewer goals than 11 other teams, but they have had the highest shooting accuracy (42%) of any team at this World Cup, an underrated facet of their game under manager Janne Andersson. And no one quite symbolises underrated more than their captain.
In Switzerland, the Swedes will be up against a similar level of opposition — European B-listers, World Cup also-rans looking to go deep in an unexpectedly open field in Russia. However, Vladimir Petkovic’s team has different designs from Swiss teams of the past, playing aggressive, attacking football with high pressing that often kills opponents before they realise what’s hit them.
Switzerland are among the top three teams with most possession regains per match in the attacking third, a pointer to their high-octane style under Petkovic which could put Granqvist and the Swedish defence under considerable pressure. Having succumbed to Germany’s relentless pressure in the group stage, whether the Baltic nation can keep Switzerland from scoring is the big question.
Key battle: Ludwig Augustinsson vs Xherdan Shaqiri
Shaqiri is undoubtedly the star of Switzerland and the stocky forward will have Sweden’s Augustinsson as his direct opponent from his starting position of wide right. Shaqiri has had more shots, key passes and dribbles than any other Swiss player at this World Cup and will likely keep Augustinsson on his toes. However, that is easier said than done as the Sweden left-back has been equally impressive, having also shown his attacking side in his team’s 3-0 win over Mexico in group play by scoring the opening goal.
Sweden rely on the physical nature of their two centre-forwards — Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen — to go direct in their build-up and attack the second balls with the likes of Emil Forsberg and Viktor Claesson. They defend in a 4-4-2 shape and can counterattack at pace as seen against Germany where they tore the world champions to shreds in the first half. Crossing from out wide with their full-backs is their go-to chance-creation method for their two strikers and late runs into the box by Forsberg or Claesson are also common.
As emphasised earlier, Switzerland press high up the pitch to strangulate opponents and force mistakes to create chances. Their strike force isn’t too heavy on goals but their advanced midfield trio of Shaqiri, Steven Zuber and Blerim Dzemaili have been among the goals. They like to converge into central positions to facilitate high pressing with the full-backs taking care of the wide areas. Petkovic’s side play a 4-2-3-1 shape but it resembles a 3-3-3-1 in possession with one of the central midfielders splitting the centre-backs to allow for more options ahead.
Big miss: Sebastian Larsson
The former Sunderland man is another wise old head of this Sweden team but they will miss his experience and nous in midfield after he picked up his second booking of this World Cup in the game against Mexico and will now sit out of the Switzerland game. Against Switzerland’s tough tackling and powerful midfield of Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, Sweden will certainly miss the cultured Larsson.
Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner will also miss the Round of 16 clash through an accumulated yellow cards suspension.
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Updated Date: Jul 03, 2018 11:39:03 IST