Manager: Erik Hamrén
Qualification: Beat Denmark 4-3 in their play-off fixture
Previous Euro Appearances: 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012
In 2012, Sweden were in a tough group with England, France and joint-hosts Ukraine, and it showed with their results as they accumulated just three points from their three group stage fixtures. They began with a 2-1 loss to Ukraine, which was then followed by a 2-0 loss against England, but they then recovered some pride as they beat France 2-0 after goals from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Sebastian Larsson.
This is Erik Hamrén’s second tournament in charge of the Swedish national side after they failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but that will not dampen their optimism. With the possibility of some third-placed sides getting through to the knockout stages of the competition, this is a great opportunity for the Zlatan-led Swedes to progress.
Back in November, Zlatan’s double against neighbours Denmark ensured that Sweden won 4-3 on aggregate and advanced to their fifth successive European Championship finals. One player that went under the radar in both games against Denmark was Emil Forsberg, a player that is likely to surprise a few, particularly in the Azzurri squad.
Forsberg plays on the left-wing and was voted Swedish midfielder of the year in 2014. After playing a pivotal role in Red Bull Leipzig’s promotion to the Bundesliga this season, Forsberg enters the tournament in excellent form. In the play-off fixture against Denmark, he scored the opening goal in the first leg victory, and then won the penalty in the second leg that Zlatan converted to set Sweden on their way to a 2-2 draw that saw them progress to the finals.
This time last year, the European Championship went excellently for Sweden. The Under-21 side was able to advance to the final, beating Denmark in the semi-finals, and they beat Portugal 4-3 on penalties to secure their first European Under-21 title. Plenty of those players that won last summer are now in the current squad, along with the old guard of Zlatan, Andreas Isaksson, and Kim Källström. Hamrén will be hoping that the mix of youth and experience will prove fruitful and allow Sweden to advance to the knockout stages.
There are plenty of players in the Sweden squad that will be familiar with their Italian counterparts. Centre-back Pontus Jansson (Torino) and midfielder Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo) currently ply their trade in Serie A, while Andreas Granqvist (Genoa), Andreas Isaksson (Juventus), Albin Ekdal (Juventus, Siena, Bologna, and Cagliari), and Zlatan Ibrahimović (Juventus, Inter, and Milan) have all played in Italy. Two players from last season’s Serie A, Filip Helander (Hellas) and Emil Krafth (Bologna), did not make the final 23 in Hamrén’s squad, however.
Key man: Zlatan Ibrahimović
Since his entrance into the Sweden side as a 19-year-old, and particularly since Henrik Larsson’s retirement in 2009, Zlatan has been the man. Despite being like a God that walks amongst mere mortals, teams still struggle to stop the 34-year-old, and he is coming off of a season in which he scored 38 goals for Paris Saint-Germain. Next year, however, Zlatan-mania will head to England as he joins Manchester United. With many in England still somehow unaware of his talent, he will be looking to give United fans a taste of what he can offer with a strong European Championship performance with Sweden.
Keep an eye on: Emil Forsberg
As already stated, Forsberg is the real deal. At 24 years of age, he is a hidden gem that benefits from the amount of attention that Zlatan receives. After some interest from Liverpool, Leipzig quickly acted and offered Forsberg a new five-year deal worth €3.5 million per year. In the group stages, Forsberg is certainly a player that Italy, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland will have to think about. He also enters the tournament in good form after scoring in Sweden’s final warm-up game, a 3-0 victory over Wales.
Prediction: Last 16
Having a few third-placed sides going through to the knockout stages makes it much more achievable, but Sweden’s group with Italy, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland is tough. Nevertheless, having Zlatan – and with him playing in a country that he is certainly familiar with – is only going to be a benefit as they aim to take a few scalps. Should the Swedes advance, they would likely face one of France, Portugal or Spain, and that would surely lead to their departure from the tournament.