Team Profile – Sweden
Number of European Championship Appearances: 6
Best European Championship Performance: Semi-finals (1992)
Number of European Championship titles: 0
Qualifying Form: Played 10 Won 5 Drawn 3 Lost 2
Coach: Erik Hamren– appointed September 2010
Most Capped player: Andreas Isaksson (130 caps)
Key Player at Euro 2016: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Sweden needed a playoff to book their slot at Euro 2016 and, much to their great delight, the win came against near neighbours Denmark.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic stamped his authority on the tie with a treble across both legs as Sweden advanced 4-3 on aggregate. In truth the scoreline flattered Denmark, who scored a couple of late goals in the second leg in Copenhagen to bring some respectability back to proceedings.
Erik Hamren’s men certainly enjoyed lording it over Denmark but it is worth noting this was not a classy Danish outfit. Just three wins from ten games in qualifying had brought Denmark into the playoffs and at times they looked woefully short of ideas in attack.
For Sweden too there were worrying trends during the campaign that saw them finish third behind Austria and Russia.
Four of their five victories came against group whipping boys Moldova and Liechtenstein while they returned just two points from the 12 on offer against the top two in the group.
Essentially, the Swedes have been poor against opposition of any substance. That record must change quickly in France.
They open against Republic of Ireland in the Stade de France on June 13 – a game both teams will desperately require a positive result from.
Thereafter, it is Italy in Toulouse on June 17 and a much-fancied Belgium outfit in Nice five days later.
Hamren’s troops must raise the bar significantly if they are to make inroads in this group.
The Zlatan Effect
Even at 34, Ibrahimovic is by some considerable distance the standout player in Sweden’s ranks. With 19 goals and six assists since their last qualification in Euro 2012, the enigmatic striker plays a role in 74-per-cent of Sweden’s goals.
Minus his contribution, Sweden would be in big trouble. What their group stage opponents must be wary of however is Ibrahimovic’s uncanny ability for scoring goals and his love of the big occasion.
As he showed against Denmark in the playoffs, he lives for the key moments.
Sweden will also be buoyed by a solid track record against their three group phase rivals.
The have never lost to the Irish, winning four of six meetings that included four points from six in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Sweden have traditionally held their own against Italy – four wins, four defeats and two draws – while they have two wins and three losses against the Belgians on their record.
If Sweden are going to preserve or enhance those good records at Euro 2016 they will need Ibrahimovic on top form as well as some of his teammates pitching in with assistance – or ideally a mixture of both.
Ibrahimovic is the star turn, but what else have Sweden got up their sleeve.
Manager Hamren has already confirmed he will step down after the tournament and some his squad may also be entering the last chance saloon.
Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson joins Ibrahimovic in having passed his 34th birthday, while Andreas Granqvist, Seb Larsson, Kim Kallstrom and Erkan Zengin are all the other side of 30.
Five of that contingent could be called upon to start against Ireland in Paris.
Hamren will point to the experience this core group offers to his side and, while that may count against the Irish, stamina could be an issue by the time the talented Belgians come calling.
Leipzig winger Emil Forsberg and Celta Vigo striker John Guidetti are among the promising younger generation. For these players, along with Oscar Lewicki and Oscar Hiljemark, the chance to appear at a major tournament with Ibrahimovic is an opportunity to be grasped at.
In front of Isaksson, Granqvist is likely to be joined be the dependable figures of Norwich City’s Martin Olsson, Celtic’s Mikael Lustig and Victor Lindelof of Benfica.
Kallstrom will likely occupy a holding role in midfield but his ability to cope with the running power and energy of the Belgians in particular is a source of worry.
Key Player – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
For reasons clearly outlined, Ibrahimovic is the only story that matters for Sweden at Euro 2016. He has shown in the season just past that he can be prolific in front of goal, albeit at a lower level in the French top flight, but also capable of big goals in tough situations during the Champions League.
Ibrahimovic is the ultimate go-to man for this team, and he would likely have it no other way.
If the ball can be effectively delivered into promising areas, this giant of world football is more than capable of causing problems for the sometimes shaky defences of the Republic of Ireland and Belgium. Even the canny Italians will need to be on their toes if Zlatan comes out to play.
Euro 2016 Prospects
Hamren has already pinpointed the clash with Martin O’Neill Irish team in Paris as the defining moment for Sweden. If they can take three points from that clash, Sweden will fancy their chances of making it into the last-16.
Based on their qualifying form, that may be the limit of their expectations in France.
This team looks pre-ordained to struggle against quality opposition and, as such, Italy and Belgium may have their measure.
Ibrahimovic, of course, commands respect but when he fails to ignite there is often very little in the way of a contingency plan for Sweden and that could be their undoing at the Euros.
June 13 – Republic of Ireland, Stade de France, Paris
June 17 – Italy, Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse
June 22 – Belgium, Stade de Nice, Nice
Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Kasimpasa), Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Patrik Carlgren (AIK).
Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Copenhagen), Erik Johansson (Copenhagen), Pontus Jansson (Torino), Victor Lindelof (Benfica) Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Martin Olsson (Norwich).
Midfielders: Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiakos), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor), Oscar Lewicki (Malmo), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Kim Kallstrom (Grasshoppers).
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Panathinaikos), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris St-Germain), Emir Kujovic (Norrkoping).