Ibrahimovic eager to make a statement at Euro 2016


Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden. (Sergei Grits/AP)

Sweden has a point to prove in France after failing to qualify for the last two World Cups, and bowing out in the group stage in each of the previous two European Championships. At 34, this will likely be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last major tournament, and you just know the mercurial Swedish forward, whose ego knows no bounds, is eager to make a statement this summer after both he and his country have under-achieved on the international stage since reaching the quarterfinals of Euro 2004.

Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Kasimpasa), Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Patrik Carlgren (AIK).
Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Martin Olsson (Norwich City), Ludwig Augustinsson (Copenhagen), Erik Johansson (Copenhagen), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Victor Lindelof (Benfica), Pontus Jansson (Torino).
Midfielders: Kim Kallstrom (Grasshoppers), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Oscar Lewicki (Malmo), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiacos), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo).
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcus Berg (Panathinaikos) John Guidetti (Celta de Vigo), Emir Kujovic (IFK Norrkoping).

In charge of the national teams since 2009, Erik Hamren previously won league titles in Norway and Demark—in fact, he took the national team job while at the same time seeing out the final months of his contract with Norwegian side Rosenberg. Mainly uses a 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1 set-up, playing with a pair holding midfielders and two blocks of four players across the middle when defending. Regardless of the formation, Ibrahimovic is the focal point. Hamren will step down after Euro 2016.

4-4-2: (GK) Isaksson – (D) Olsson, Granqvist, Granqvist, Lustig – (M) Forsberg, Kallstrom, Lewicki, Durmaz – (F) Ibrahimovic, Berg

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Roster lists
Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history

June 13: vs. Ireland in Saint-Denis
June 17: vs. Italy in Toulouse
June 22 vs. Belgium in Nice

Sweden was one of the teams that received a reprieve courtesy of the tournament expanding from 16 to 24 nations. The Swedes finished third in a competitive qualifying group behind Austria and Russia. Under the old format they would have been eliminated, but they qualified for the playoffs as a third-place team. After receiving their life line, the Swedes then beat Denmark in their two-legged series 4-3 on aggregate—Ibrahimovic score three goals, including two in Copenhagen—to book their spot in France.

Sweden has a clear tactical identity—this is a well-organized side that keeps it shape, presses opponents and overcrowds the midfield. They play within their means, and remain calm and disciplined. Alongside a core of veterans, Hamren has drafted in a number of players who helped Sweden win last year’s UEFA U-21 European Championship, giving the senior side an injection of youth.

Bottom line: They rely far too much on Ibrahimovic. The entire game-plan is built around the former PSG talisman, so if you can shut him down, you’ve effectively neutralized their attack. Bundesliga-based midfielder Albin Ekdal was named to the squad even though he’s dealing with an injury. His unknown status has cast a very big cloud over the Swedes going into this tournament.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: At 34, he’s still among the best players in the world—just ask him! The Super Swede has a knack for scoring highlight reel goals, and is a dynamic attacker who can influence the game at a moment’s notice with an individual act of brilliance.

Mikael Lustig: A no-nonsense defender who can play either in the middle or on the right side of defence. He has over 50 caps for Sweden since making his national team debut in 2008.

Andreas Isaksson: A mainstay for Sweden since 2002, the veteran goalkeeper is about to compete in a sixth major tournament for his country. Not known for making outstanding saves, but he is a steady hand who gives the Swedes a solid and reliable presence between the posts.

Can they even get out of the group? They haven’t been able to do that in the previous two European Championships, so expectations back in Sweden are pretty muted. They’ve had teams in the past with more quality and balance than this one, so it’ll be interesting to see if Hamren’s men can meet the minimum requirement of advancing to the knockout stage.

Sweden’s fortunes could come down to its opening match against Ireland. A win would put them in a good position to move on, even as one of the four-best third place teams. But a loss or a draw would put them in a deep hole, with Italy and Belgium still to play. A spot in the knockout stages wouldn’t be a major surprise. Equally, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see them go home after the first round. Either way, don’t look for them to make any kind of lasting impression in France.


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