Saint Petersburg, Monday
Shorn of a superstar since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s retirement, Sweden were not expected even to make it to the World Cup but now they are within reach of their first quarter-final for 24 years.
After eliminating the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, Sweden played their part in sending defending champions Germany home early by topping Group F with victories over South Korea and Mexico.
In keeping with his squad, no-frills coach Janne Andersson is not a big name, having spent his entire playing and coaching career in his homeland. But the 55-year-old is credited with creating the collective spirit that has helped Sweden thrive despite a lack of standout individual talent.“Sweden are definitely thriving as a collective right now, the like of which we have not seen since 1994,” when they reached the World Cup semi-finals, Swedish football journalist Kristopher Karlsson told AFP.
“It’s been a perfect storm for Sweden with Zlatan finishing his international career and Janne Andersson coming in at the same time.
“Every single player has bought into Andersson’s ideas of working hard for each other and having fun together as a bigger group outside the pitch.”
Arguably Andersson’s biggest decision came when he decided not to welcome back Ibrahimovic when the striker opened the door to a possible return after Sweden saw off Italy in a two-legged playoff in November.
Ibrahimovic claimed “a World Cup without me wouldn’t be a World Cup” when Sweden failed to qualify four years ago.
Sweden’s all-time top scorer angered many of his former fans with characteristically self-obsessed comments in the lead-up to the tournament from across the Atlantic, where he now plays his club football for Los Angeles Galaxy. -AFP