With Euro 2012 kicking-off - it's time to profile the countries taking part, from their footballing beginnings to the present day.
Coach: Erik Hamren
Best Group Runners Up
One to Watch: Tobias Hysen
As we approach the summer of 2012 all of our minds, well most of them at least, will turn away from the domestic football competitions within our own countries, towards the International arena for the eagerly awaited European Championship Finals, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. At It's All In The Game, I shall be profiling each of the 16 finalists that will bid to become the champions of Europe until 2016.
The next of our team profiles for Euro 2012 takes us to Sweden. Sweden’s history in qualifying for the major international tournaments is impressive. The Swedes have qualified for no fewer than eleven World Cup Finals and they've come close to winning the ultimate prize twice, finishing third in 1958 on home soil and in 1994 when the tournament was staged in the United States.
As hosts of the 1992 European Championships, Sweden qualified automatically, marking their debut in the tournament with some fine performances, topping a group that included, eventual champions, Denmark. The Swedes famously condemned England to group stage elimination in 1992 by recording a 2-1 victory in what was Gary Lineker's final game for the Three Lions; Thomas Brolin with a fabulous winner. In the end Sweden lost out narrowly in the semi-final, defeated 2-3 by the newly unified German side, Kennet Andersson's last minute header not enough to save the hosts.
Since then Sweden have gone on to appear in the European Championships on three further occasions, 2000, 2004 and 2008. They have been disappointing tournaments for the Swedes, in terms of results, only once managing to get through the group stage, despite having players such as Henrik Larsson and Freddie Ljungberg to call on. Their brief foray into the knock-out stages was in 2004, when they lost to the Dutch in the quarter final after Edwin Van der Sar saved Olaf Mellberg’s penalty in the shoot-out. The game having finished goalless after extra time.
Sweden have qualified for Euro 2012 by right as the best runners up from the group stages. They picked up more points from their qualifying games than any other second placed team. The Swedes formidable form during the campaign saw them rack up 24 points from ten games, a record of eight victories and two defeats, which included a 3-2 triumph over group winners the Netherlands in their final match. This victory marked the end of Holland’s remarkable record of 17 successive wins in qualifying and secured Sweden a points total that would have won three out of the six, six team groups.
On this, their fifth appearance in the European Championships to date, Sweden will be looking to improve on their recent record in major competitions. Failure to qualify for World Cup 2010 was seen as a disaster and resulted in the replacement of, long-time coach, Lars Lagerback with Erik Hamren.
Under Hamren's tutelage Sweden look refreshed, he’s brought in a couple of players who had been on the fringes under the old regime to good effect, such as Rasmus Elm. A skilful attacking midfielder known for his speed, hard work and set piece capability, Elm scored ten goals from midfield for AZ this season and was believed to be on Liverpool's radar before Kenny Dalgish's departure.
As well as bringing the new, Hamren’s arrival seems to have rejuvenated and even reinvigorated some of the more experienced campaigners, such as Kim Kallstrom and Johan Elmander, both playing a major part in Sweden’s successful qualifying campaign. Elmander was struggling with injury towards the end of the season; however, he has recovered suitably to be included in the final squad.
A lesser known name but perhaps one to look out for this summer is that of Tobias Hysen of IFK Goteburg. Hysen is an attacking midfielder come striker, son of Glen Hysen, who Liverpool fans of a certain age will remember. Formerly a fringe player, he has been a regular in the squad under Hamren’s stewardship.
Having moved to Goteburg from Sunderland in 2007 after a short rather unsuccessful spell, Hysen has re-established himself and has an excellent goals per game ratio, 51 in 126 appearances. At thirty years old he is a relative latecomer to the international scene, although he was capped at under-21 level, but he is now replicating his league form at international level with seven goals from his twenty-one caps.
Ola Toivonen is another name to keep your eyes out for in Poland and Ukraine. The 25 year old, who plays for PSV in Holland, has been heavily linked with a move to the English Premier League next season. Toivonen is a tall, powerful striker who scored eighteen goals in thirty three league appearances last term. Although he only made two substitute appearances for Sweden during the qualifying campaign, he did score in one of them and has been named in Hamren's final squad.
Sweden have a good chance of progressing into the knockout stages in Poland and Ukraine, their qualification results and performances were impressive, and the new coach seems to really have the players motivated and playing at something like their best. The experience contained within the team, especially its spine, will be vital; Isaksson, Mellberg, Svensson (vc) and Ibrahimovic (c) have nearly 400 caps between them.
The Swedes have been drawn in group d, with England, France and Ukraine. My feeling is that France will top the group and that there will be an almighty scrap between the other three to claim the second qualifying spot. Ukraine are an unknown quantity and will be helped by home advantage, England are, to put it nicely, very much a work in progress under a brand new boss and, although unlikely to concede many, unlikely to score too many either.
If Sweden can get off to a good start by beating Ukraine in their opening fixture, then there is no reason to think that they won't get out of the group. Further progress could be possible but it will depend on the form of the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic, if he is firing on all cylinders then there is a slim chance that Sweden could reach the semi-finals and emulate the success of 1992. If, on the other hand, he is not, then they could well be going home early.
By Neil Patterson