Sweden are back at the FIFA World Cup finals after missing the last two tournaments, and will face an intriguing battle with last-6 regulars Mexico in Group F - with second place behind defending champions Germany up for grabs.
Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar)
Sweden claimed two major scalps in qualifying to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006.
Janne Andersson’s team finished second in Group A in qualifying, behind France – having been the only team to beat the French in the group – but ahead of the Netherlands on goal difference. And having qualified ahead of the Dutch for the play-offs, Sweden then beat Italy 1-0 on aggregate – Jakob Johansson scoring the only goal of the tie in the first leg – to book their place in Russia.
It was just rewards in many senses, despite being overshadowed by the shock of Italy not qualifying, with the Swedes having smashed in 26 goals in Group A – Marcus Berg grabbing eight of those to finish as the group’s top scorer.
Sweden were runners-up in 1958, the year they hosted the tournament, and have twice finished third at the World Cup too, most recently in the USA in 1994. More recently, however, they have only qualified for two of the five tournaments since 1994, and were knocked out in the second round in both 2002 and 2006.
Germany, who they must face in Group F, were the last team to knock the Swedes out of the World Cup when they beat them in the last-16 stage 12 years ago.
With it already confirmed that all-time top goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic would not be coming out of retirement for the World Cup after his move to LA Galaxy from Manchester United, the Swedish squad featured no surprises. Janne Andersson has Marcus Berg’s leading the line in place of Ibrahimovic, who retired after Euro 2016. Goalkeeper Robin Olsen is back after missing the friendlies against Chile and Romania through injury. Of the squad selected for those friendlies, Jacob Rinne, Niklas Hult, Johan Larsson, Alexander Fransson and Ken Sema were the players to miss the cut for Russia.
Marcus Berg scored eight goals in qualification, more than any other player in a qualifying group that also included France and the Netherlands. Emil Forsberg was voted Swedish midfielder of the year for the third time after his performances for the national team and RB Leipzig, meanwhile. Alongside him in midfield, Sebastian Larsson will make his 100th international appearance this summer.
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Sweden sealed their place at the World Cup by beating Italy 1-0 over two legs in the play-off, courtesy of Jakob Johansson’s goal in the first game in Solna. Friendlies with a domestic-based squad over the winter brought a 1-1 draw with Estonia and 1-0 defeat of Denmark in Abu Dhabi, but Chile won 2-1 in Solna in March, and the Swedes then lost 1-0 in Romania three days later. A goalless draw with Denmark followed at the start of this month, followed by another against Peru, meaning Sweden have now scored just four goals in their last nine matches.
1 – Robin Olsen (Copenhagen) – Age 28 – 18 caps/0 goals
12 – Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp) – Age 28 – 5 caps/0 goals
23 – Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea City) – Age 28 – 8 caps/0 goals
2 – Mikael Lustig (Celtic) – Age 31 – 66 caps/6 goals
3 – Victor Lindelof (Manchester United) – Age 23 – 21 caps/1 goal
4 – Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar) – Age 33 – 72 caps/6 goals
5 – Martin Olsson (Swansea City) – Age 30 – 43 caps/5 goals
6 – Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen) – Age 24 – 15 caps/0 goals
14 – Filip Helander (Bologna) – Age 25 – 4 caps/0 goals
16 – Emil Krafth (Bologna) – Age 23 – 13 caps/0 goals
18 – Pontus Jansson (Leeds United) – Age 27 – 15 caps/0 goals
7 – Sebastian Larsson (Hull City) – Age 32 – 100 caps/6 goals
8 – Albin Ekdal (Hamburg) – Age 28 – 34 caps/0 goals
10 – Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig) – Age 26 – 36 caps/6 goals
13 – Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders) – Age 31 – 13 caps/0 goals
15 – Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa) – Age 25 – 22 caps/2 goals
17 – Viktor Claesson (Krasnodar) – Age 26 – 22 caps/3 goals
19 – Marcus Rohden (Crotone) – Age 27 – 12 caps/1 goal
21 – Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse) – Age 29 – 45 caps/3 goals
9 – Marcus Berg (Al Ain) – Age 31 – 57 caps/18 goals
11 – John Guidetti (Alaves) – Age 26 – 20 caps/1 goal
20 – Ola Toivonen (Toulouse) – Age 31 – 59 caps/13 goals
22 – Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren) – Age 25 – 20 caps/2 goals
Sweden are likely to face a battle with Mexico to get out of Group F, and are narrow outsiders at 5/4 to qualify with Bet365.
Sweden proved their own form with some superb results in qualifying, beating the Netherlands to second place in their qualification group behind France and then knocking Italy out in the play-off. However, Mexico have carried their form into their friendlies, and Sweden have not.
Mexico also have a habit of making it into the last-16 – they have done so in the last six consecutive World Cups – and so the odds are stacked against Sweden making it through. In fact, they are 8/13 with Bet365 not to qualify from Group F.
They will at least hope not to finish bottom in the group, however, with South Korea seemingly set for fourth place looking at recent form. Sweden are 13/5 to finish bottom of the group with Bet365, but considering they should be challenging for second place when they face Mexico in their final group game, it would be a bit of a surprise if they did prop the final group table up.
Sweden overcame the Netherlands and Italy to reach this stage and will not be pushovers, but Mexico – their likely rivals for second place in Group F – have a knack of getting through the group stage, and it could spell an early exit for the Swedes.
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Complete list of 32 teams participating in World Cup 2018 and their Group Predictions