Euro 2012 Fact-file – Sweden

In a group that appears on paper to be evenly poised, Sweden stand a good chance of escaping into the next round and perhaps beyond. After missing out on the 2010 World Cup and failing to progress past the group stage at Euro 2008, Sweden have lost ground to make up at the 2012 European Championships.

Co-hosts Ukraine, Euro 2000 winners France and Roy Hodgson’s England are the opposition Erik Hamren’s side will face, with Ukraine the first and France the last of the Blue-Yellow’s fixtures. A good start is often vital in tournament football as three group games is not much time to account for an early defeat, but Sweden recorded a 3-0 victory over Greece four years ago and still did not make the next round after losing both of their next two fixtures, against eventual winners Spain and Russia. Past experience then tells Sweden their hopes do not ride on the first game, which may be just as well as facing Ukraine in Kiev in their first match of the tournament is a fearsome prospect.

Hamren can at least call upon some vastly experienced members of his squad. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson and midfielder Kim Kallstrom have around 90 caps, while Olof Mellberg and Anders Svensson each have over 100. But there are also some new faces amongst Hamren’s travelling party, with the likes of Martin Olsson, Jonas Olsson and Rasmus Elm having less than 40 caps between them. If not for the injury suffered by 20-year-old John Guidetti, the Manchester City striker who spent last season on loan at Feyenoord and plundered 20 goals in 23 games, the 23-man squad would have one of Europe’s most exciting young players. An inflamed nerve in the thigh muscle has however ended Guidetti’s participation before it began.

Fortunately for Sweden, if not for opposition defences, Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains. The captain and undoubted star of the side is likely to take a deeper role than usually seen for his club Milan, possibly playing off Johan Elmander if the Galatasaray striker’s fractured foot heals in time. Sweden’s hopes of making it past the group stage and beyond rest on what kind of performances Ibra conjures up. If he continues his club form that saw 35 goals in 44 appearances last season, then Sweden could cause a few upsets along the way, with the skipper’s teammates offering solid support. But if the 30-year-old is not at his best the Sweden side contains precious few difference makers, perhaps having to rely on set-pieces from Kallstrom, Elm or Sebastian Larsson.

With Larsson on the right, Elm on the left and Kallstrom partnering Svensson in midfield, Sweden will be nothing if not resolute. But they also have pace, power and organisation, three qualities to worry any side on the counter-attack. Reaching Euro 2012 as the best runner-up from the qualification stage, Sweden averaged better than three goals a game in a group won by the Netherlands by only three points. Carrying that goal threat into the tournament itself is now the aim.

Coach – Erik Hamren: The 54-year-old replaced the long-serving Lars Lagerback in 2009 on a part-time basis until his Rosenborg contract expired in September 2010. He twice won the Norwegian league title with Rosenborg and the Danish league with Aalborg, as well as experiencing cup success with AIK and Orgryte in his native Sweden.

One to watch – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Could it be anyone else? An obvious choice perhaps but everything Ibra does stands out from the crowd. Captain, winner of nine league titles with five different clubs in three different countries and scorer of 29 international goals, the seventh-highest total in Sweden’s history, the Milan forward is every inch the talisman.

Possible XI:

Isaksson

Lustig – Mellberg – J Olsson – M Olsson

Svensson – Kallstrom

Larsson – Ibrahimovic – R Elm

Elmander

Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.

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