Outshone by the equally bright shirts of the Dutch in qualifying, Sweden nonetheless arrive at Euro 2012 looking to sparkle.
That’ll be difficult for them though as, placed in a tough group along with co-hosts Ukraine, England and France, Erik Hamrén’s team will have a huge job on their hands to get out of the group stages in a tournament they reached by being the best second-placed team in qualification.
They’ll face the Ukraine first (Draw 9/4 SkyBet) in Kiev on June 11th, a baptism of fire against co-hosts who will be determined not to let their public down. Unfortunately for the Swedes, things will only get tougher from there.
A failure to win adds even more pressure onto the second game against England back in Kiev on June 15th.
These two have been frequent opponents in recent years, coming up against each other at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups as well as numerous friendly matches, the most recent being England’s 1-0 win at Wembley last November – Fabio Capello’s last match in charge of the Three Lions.
Depending on how both have got on in their opening matches, this clash (England win 10/11 Boylesports) could prove to be the end of one of them, and it is England’s extra quality all over the pitch which could well prove decisive, leaving Hamrén and his side in real trouble.
They’ll face up to France in their last match of the group – and probably the tournament – again in Kiev on June 19th (France win Bwin 15/13), and although circumstances in the group could mean that the French aren’t taking things too strenuously, they look set to be the team who send the Swedes home early (stage of elimination: group stage 4/11 Bet365, group points: exactly 0 7/1, exactly 1 4/1, exactly 2 7/1 Bet Victor).
It’s not that Sweden don’t possess good players in their squad – a more favourable group could have seen them qualify – but they just don’t look to have enough to succeed in Poland and the Ukraine.
They do of course have the captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic (top goalscorer 66/1 Bet Victor), the AC Milan forward who continues to be loved fiercely by his fans and equally loathed by his detractors – almost like a football Justin Bieber.
Ibrahimovic supporters point to his remarkable record of winning league titles virtually everywhere he goes – and in each of the last eight seasons – plus a prolific goalscoring record for Milan in the last campaign, whilst those who aren’t of the same opinion over his qualities point to an ego the size of the Ukraine and a perceived lack of effort in the bigger matches, of which the Swedes face three here.
It’s not just about him though, with Sweden also possessing the former Bolton Wanderers forward Johan Elmander, PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen and the Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson, who will look to be as much of a threat from dead balls as he is on Wearside.
Veterans such as the former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg, ex-Southampton man Anders Svensson and Celtic’s Daniel Majstorovic are surely playing in their final tournament, and sadly for them there doesn’t look to be a happy ending.
Newer, younger players like Blackburn’s Olsson twins Martin and Marcus and the 19-year-old Manchester City forward John Guidetti, prolific this season on loan at Feyenoord, have emerged, but this looks to be a little too soon for them.
Ibrahimovic will of course be key to just how they do, but Sweden are likely to find themselves squeezed out by France and England in a tough group, and their light will burn out quickly