Can Sweden make Euro 2012 their maiden major tournament win? Ciaran Bonass takes a look at their odds of doing so.
Sweden remind me of that second cousin at a family gathering when it comes to finals tournaments of recent years – somewhere in the back of your mind you always know they’re around the party but it’s not until you’ve had to say your goodbyes that you took any real notice, or were particularly interested, and even the 66/1 on an outright win won’t see too many punters parting with their hard earned.
Before smorgasbords are spat out in disgust at my ignorance, I’d like to point out that Sweden’s overall record in World Cup finals bears comparison with all but the very best on account of two third-place finishes in their history and their consistency in qualification down the years is hugely admirable for a nation not blessed with an abundance of naturally gifted players. It is, however, 20 years ago – when two points were still awarded for a group win – that Thomas Brolin showed he could be a hugely impressive footballer before he ate all the pies on his hiatus in England as he led the host nation to their best showing ever in a European Championships when they earned a semi-final berth at Euro 92 before succumbing to then World Cup holders Germany.
The Swedes route to qualification was littered with goals – 42 were scored in their 10 qualifiers – to compliment a refreshingly open approach in their play. They recovered well from a surprising 2-1 defeat in Hungary last September to finish with eight wins from ten as the best group runners-up behind Holland and took the automatic qualification place that came with it. Erik Hamren’s side also hit four past the Dutch over their two encounters, so they won’t be in awe of any opposition and are sure to take them on rather than attempt to contain or nullify any challengers. That’s probably a practical and positive tactic in response to an ageing defence which looks far from impenetrable – six were also shipped to Holland over those games and the 2010 World Cup finalists had already reached the finals thanks to nine straight wins before Sweden earned a 3-2 victory in Stockholm to put them through.
In Kim Kallstrom they boasted the player with the most assists throughout qualifiers alongside Germany’s Mesut Ozil with seven while Sebastian Larsson was only one behind that pair, so it’s pretty clear that they won’t be found wanting in terms of creativity, although Larsson is nursing a groin injury which put him out of the tail-end of Sunderland’s Premier League campaign and the width and set-piece prowess he offers would be sorely missed should he fail to recover in time.
There’s little doubt the draw was a relatively kind on the Scandinavians and odds of 5/1 to top Group D, and a particularly eye-catching 2/1 on their qualification certainly aren’t to be sniffed at. Particularly so in a group containing Ukraine, France and England, teams who are, respectively, scraping the top 50 in the FIFA rankings, coming off the back of an atrocious showing at the 2010 World Cup and attempting to integrate a new widely unheralded manager less than a month before the tournament opens. The volatile but occasionally irrepressible talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain paramount to Sweden’s chances of success, if he can perform as well as Brolin did 20 years ago he too could guide the Swede’s pig out on the glory for a lifetime, that would be a huge surprise but group qualification is definitely achievable.