The Scandinavian side will look to emerge from the tournament’s toughest test and make the knockout stages of the Euros for the first time since 2004.
Drawn into what is arguably the Group of Death at Euro 2016, Sweden have a number of daunting challenges ahead and are likely to battle it out against the Republic of Ireland for third place, with the group also including Belgium and Italy.
The Blågult were placed into Group G alongside fellow qualifying nations Austria and Russia, as well as Montenegro, Liechtenstein and Moldova. Out of their 10 games played, Erik Hamrén’s side won five, drew three and lost two, finishing third on 18 points – seven ahead of Montenegro, just two behind Russia and 10 behind Austria. The Swedes were the only nation Austria dropped points to during qualifying, with a 1-1 draw played out in their first meeting.
Following that aforementioned third place finish, Sweden met Denmark in the play-offs, where they won the first leg 2-1 and resisted a late Danish comeback to draw 2-2 in the second fixture. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored three of the four goals over the games, showcasing how vital he is to the nation’s chances of making it out of Group E in France.
The Swedes have participated in the tournament a total of five times, with their first dating back to the 1992 tournament which they hosted. They made it to the semi-final on that occasion, but were knocked out by Germany.
After missing out on qualification to the 1996 iteration, the Scandinavians made it in 2000 and have qualified for the tournament at every attempt since. The only time they reached the knockout stages of the European Championships was in 2004, where they went down to the Netherlands 5-4 in a quarter-final penalty-shootout.
There is no doubting the obvious strength of the Swedish national side lies in its attack, in particular with its captain.
Ibrahimovic netted 11 of his country’s 19 goals during qualifying – including the play-offs against Denmark – with the next highest scorer in the side being Trabzonspor winger Erkan Zengin with three. The 34-year-old’s extraordinary footballing ability is simply incomparable to the rest of his teammates, boasting the highest amount of pedigree throughout the whole squad by a considerable margin.
The former Barcelona, Inter and AC Milan man is entering what is likely to be his final major international tournament, and any success his country may have in France will stem from the big man up front.
Apart from their heavy reliance on Ibrahimovic and his goal-scoring exploits, Sweden possess a fairly balanced squad all over the pitch. Other than their towering striker, the Blågult do not possess any outstanding quality and have a decent, but not terrific, squad. Such a squad may be prone to being easily dominated by a much stronger side such as Belgium.
The main weakness, however, may lie at centre-back. This is not so much down to the fact they do not boast quality in this position – Victor Lindelöf’s time with Portuguese champions Benfica this season a prime example this is not the case – but more due to their lack of pace. Sweden may be prone to balls being played over the top, where they would be unable to recover.
Predicted finish – Round of 16
Coming off an outstanding season with PSG, Ibrahimovic is primed to lead his side out of the group stages in what is likely to be his final major tournament at international level.
Hamrén has selected a talented and balanced squad that has multiple tactical blueprints to utilise for different situations. The Scandinavians will have to be at their best in order to escape the Group of Death, though, with a third place finish their desired target heading into the tournament.
Players such as Kim Källström and Pontus Wernbloom may be critical in the potential midfield duels, however, whether or not Sweden attain success in France will depend on their big man up front.