Back in the FIFA World Cup for the first time after 2006, Sweden will be hoping to cause an upset in Group F in Russia.

Having missed out on qualification for the FIFA World Cup for the past two occasions, Sweden made it to the main event in Russia in rather dramatic circumstances.

The Blue-Yellow finished second in the Group A of the UEFA qualifiers ahead of the likes of Netherlands and Bulgaria. However, when they were drawn against Italy in the playoff round, it seemed that they would once again miss out of the competition. But, the Swedes managed to pull off a major upset against the Azzurri beating them 1-0 over two legs and earning themselves a spot in the summer’s tournament.

Currently ranked 23rd by FIFA, Sweden have had a strong history in the World Cup having been the runners-up in the 1958 edition, while they have finished third on two occasions in 1950 and 1994. They were eliminated at the round of 16 stages in their previous two appearances in 2002 and 2006.

Group and Fixtures

Sweden have been drawn in Group F along with reigning champions and overwhelming favourites Germany, along with the high-flying Mexico and South Korea.

They will kick things off with a tie against the Asian nation on 18th of June, before facing off Die Mannschaft on the 23rd, with their last game against Mexico, which could prove to be the second-place decider scheduled for the 27th.

The Squad

Manager Janne Anderson has revealed his 23-man squad for the trip to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea City).

Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnador), Martin Olsson (Swansea), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Filip Helander, Emil Krafth (both Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds United).

Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson (Hull), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Viktor Claesson (Krasnador), Marcus Rohden (Crotone), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse).

Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren).

Ahead of the announcement of the squad, the biggest question that was looming over Sweden was will legendary striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had hung up his boots from international football two years ago, come out of retirement and be a part of the squad?

The former PSG and Manchester United striker had kept dropping hints on social media and during interviews post Sweden’s qualification that he was likely to make a comeback. However, nothing materialized as Andersson decided not to call upon the veteran striker for the tournament.

Forsberg will hold the key to Sweden's fortunes in Russia (Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)

Forsberg will hold the key to Sweden’s fortunes in Russia (Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)

The Blue-Yellows will be led by the influential and experienced defender Andreas Granqvist, and will also be able to count on the likes of Mikael Lustig, a serial winner with Scottish champions Celtic, Leeds United’s Pontus Jansson and Manchester United centre-half Victor Lindelof in defence. Seasoned campaigners Sebastian Larsson and Albin Ekdal will form the crux of the team in the middle of the park, with the likes of Ola Toivonen and Jimmy Durmaz providing support going forward.

Striker Marcus Berg will be a major threat for oppositions, having proven himself to be quite a tough prospect to go up against during the qualifiers. The 31-year old top-scored in Group A with 8 goals and has 18 strikes for the Swedes in 54 international appearances.

The biggest drawing card for Sweden in Russia though, will be attacking midfielder Emil Forsberg. The versatile midfielder has grown into the beating heart of this Sweden side in the past couple of years and provides the guile and the creativity in the attacking third. After a successful season with RB Leipzig in Germany, he will be hoping to leave a mark in Russia.

The Manager

Janne Andersson

The man in charge (Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)

The man in charge (Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)

Appointed as Eric Hamren’s replacement post Sweden’s exit in the UEFA Euro 2016, Andersson has done a solid job since taking over the reins of the national team and has successfully rebuilt the side into a greater unit than the sum of its parts .

The 55-year old has turned them into a defensively resilient side that are very hard to break down, indicated by the fact that they managed seven clean sheets in their qualifying campaign and went unbeaten at home throughout. Their defensive performance in the second leg of the playoffs against Italy was reminiscent of the “catenaccio” tactics that the Azzurri were known for back in the day.

Having overseen nineteen games so far, Andersson has led Sweden to nine victories and six losses, with a win percentage of 47.37. Under him, the team have developed great mental toughness and have proven they can go toe to toe with the big guns, having beaten France and Italy during their qualifying campaign.

Marcus Berg will pose a threat in attack (Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)

Marcus Berg will pose a threat in attack (Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)

Andersson, much like his predecessors, prefers to set his team out in a traditional 4-4-2 setup, which does render them predictable on occasions, but the squad does have the personnel to make it work.

FC Copenhagen’s Robin Olsen will be the preferred option between the sticks for the Swedes, with Emil Krafth and Martin Olsson likely to take up the full-back slots on the right and left sides respectively. Captain Granqvist is expected to partner up Lindelof in the heart of the defence with Pontus Jansson and Filip Helander as the backups.

Jimmy Durmaz is the preferred option on the right-flank, while Forsberg is a guaranteed starter out on the left. The two will be key in creating chances going forward for Sweden. Holding fort in the middle of the park will be 28-year old Albin Ekdal alongside the experienced Larrson, with Oscar Hiljemark expected to provide cover.

Upfront, the strike partnership of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen will be the preferred choice, with the former expected to stay up and provide a target, while the latter will drift deep and try to exploit spaces between the lines.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Olsen; Krafth, Lindelof, Granqvist, Olsson; Durmaz, Larsson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Toivonen, Berg;

THT Verdict

Sweden’s record in the World Cups in the past is pretty encouraging and the fact that they managed to beat the likes of France and Italy on their way to Russia shows the potential that Andersson’s team possesses. However, the draw has put them in a difficult position, given that Germany are almost certain to top Group F, meaning they will be involved in a three-way battle against Mexico and South Korea for the second spot.

South Korea can prove to be a tricky opponent, but one would expect the Blue-Yellows to get the better of them, which would leave a lot hanging on their fixture against El Tri. Given Mexico’s quality and record in the competition, it will take a big performance from Sweden to make it out of the group and progress to the knockouts.

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