This Swede Gonna Mash Us?
We chatted with Swedish journalist Eric Hilmersson to get his view on the Swedes and what kind of threat he feels the Boys in Green will have on their hopes of getting out of the group.
TOJ: What is the relationship between the public and the National Team like?
EH: It has seen both better and worse days. About a year ago it reached a new low, after the humiliating defeat against Austria (1-4) but after the performances in the playoffs against Denmark a lot of hope was once again raised. So the team is quite popular, and Zlatan has been in a good mood lately, which helps a lot…
TOJ: Is there a pressure on the team to reach the last 16 having not done so in 10 years?
EH: Yes, I feel a lot of people think it is about time that we enjoyed a little success in a big Championship. Also, many believe that this is our last chance for a while considering Zlatan's imminent departure and the fact that the next World cup will be very hard to reach.
TOJ: How was the qualification process?
EH: It was a roller coaster. Sweden started out in a nice way, gathering points, and drawing against Austria away. Before the away-game against Russia everyone thought that it was “in the sack” but two straight defeats changed everything and Mr Hamrén was very heavily criticised at that point. There was even talks about this being “the worst Swedish national team ever”. But as I said, the playoffs proved that Sweden still had a solid game, and since then Mr Hamrén and the players have shown a whole different level of self esteem.
TOJ: How are the Swedish XI likely to line out from a tactical and strategy point of view?
EH: Sweden will play a classic 4-4-2. The full-backs are relatively offensive, but most of all expected to deal with their defensive tasks. The midfield will consist of two central defenders (probably Källström and Lewicki), where one of them has a strictly defensive role (Lewicki), and the other hone is supposed to be a two-way player. The winger on the right side (most likely Sebastian Larsson) will stay close to the line and run a lot up and down and take big defensive responsibility, whereas the winger on the left side (Forsberg) will be more attacking, and have a more free role, moving in and out.
The attackers will be Zlatan, who enjoys absolute freedom and often comes deep to collect the ball, and another forward (probably Berg) who is destined to stay close to the penalty area as well as picking up rebounds.
TOJ: Leicester City were given incredible credit for being so fit this year. A lot of this credit will be owed to Paul Balsom, who is also part of the Swedish set up. Can we expect a similar approach to fitness with this Swedish side?
EH: I believe so, yes. Sweden has never had such a big following around the team, which includes medical and physical staff. Mr Hamren is very aware that in most matches Sweden need to be stronger physically than the opponent in order for us to win.
TOJ: How do you rate Erik Hamren, and how would you describe his management style?
EH: Overall he has done fairly good over the last seven years. He came in with a lot of passion and optimism, which in some cases turned out to be naivety. He is definitely not considered to be a tactical genius and he has more than often proved inept to explain exactly what he wants from his team as far as tactics go. However he is very emotional and driven and he has definitely managed to make this team do some spectacular things. Like coming from 0-4 to 4-4 against Germany, in Berlin.
TOJ: Who are the players that the Irish public might not know but should be aware of?
EH: I would have to say Emil Forsberg. He has played in the second division in Germany, but he has been one of the leagues best players and the last year he has been our best offensive player, behind Zlatan. He is fast, has great technique, and is very bold and hard to catch when he sets off.
TOJ: Zlatan is Sweden's greatest ever player. Where is he likely to be used against Ireland, as a no.10 or a no.9?
EH: As I said, it depends on how he feels that he can affect the game at hand the most. But he likes to control the game by directing the ball from the midfield, but he is also very often the man up front finishing the attacks. So he is both, but maybe a little more number 10.
TOJ: Does this Swedish team have weaknesses? And if so what do you think they are?
EH: Ever since Mr Hamrén took over the defence has not been as solid as it was under Mr Lagerbäck. Defensive mistakes happen every now and then, and we have had some problems finding full-backs that are able to consistently perform on a high level. Now with Lustig back on track, the problem is probably biggest on the left side with the unpredictable Martin Olsson. Also, there has been some problems dealing with set pieces from time to time.
TOJ: Sweden are the reigning European Champions at U-21 level. Who are the bright young hopes in the squad?
EH: The centre-back Victor Nilsson-Lindelöf has had a fantastic season in Benfica, playing in the Champions league and receiving a lot of praise for it. Huge talent. Midfielder Oscar Hiljemark is a classic box-to-tox-player who also has great potential and has been a leading figure in Palermo. A future captain in my view.
TOJ: What is the Swedish public's perception of the Irish team?
EH: I think a lot of people know about what Shane Long can do, and what Robbie Keane used to do. Other than that we think of Ireland as a hard working team, a group of players who could die for their country and who are really hard to play against. But swedes don’t know too many of your players apart from the ones I mentioned, and I think most people feel that Sweden should win.
TOJ: Finally, the Sweden v Ireland game is seen as a must-win by both sides, how do you expect it to end up and also the final group standings?
EH: I think that Sweden will win. We have a team with a group of players who has experience from big games and we have a few with the individual qualities to be decisive. And with Zlatan we have a player that can score against any team, even if the attacking game isn’t really working for us. 1-0 to Sweden.
Belgium will win the group, Italy or Sweden will finish second. And Ireland.. well, sorry.
TOJ: We'll see who the sorry ones are in due course, Eric!
Eric Hilmersson is a Swedish sports journalist based out of Gotenburg. Versed very well on Swedish football, and equally upbeat about their chances in France. So much so, he's skipping the Euro's and covering the Rio Olympics this summer instead. We question whether it's really a sporting decision though ;-)
Zlatan picture by the talented: @HowayaPrints