Sweden and Switzerland will face each other to earn the spot in the next round which could lead either of them to their first quarter-finals in this century.
Sweden, despite being paired with the reigning champions Germany, unexpectedly topped a tough Group F. The Scandinavian side faced a 2-1 defeat by Germany, as a last minute Toni Kroos goal denied Sweden a draw against crowned champions of 2014, but a 3-0 drubbing of Mexico helped them top the group on a goal-difference after levelling points with them.
Switzerland earned qualification to the next round by limping over the line, earning five points in three matches. The final game was a captivating 2-2 draw with Costa Rica that saw them go on to a hard-earned qualification into the next round, as Schweizer Nati only needed a draw to go further.
The two sides will compete against each other for the 29th time in their history, but at the same time, it will be a first-ever face-off between the two nations at any major tournament. Ahead of their latest meeting on Tuesday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Round of 16 clash.
Team News & Tactics
Janne Andersson has no significant injury concerns for the upcoming Round of 16 encounter except for midfielder Sebastian Larsson, who suffered a head injury while playing against Mexico. Although, he would have missed this fixture due to a suspension. Either of Gustav Svensson or Oscar Hiljemark will probably replace him in the Round of 16 match.
Meanwhile, Andreas Granqvist and Victor Lindelof will form a vital part of the defence that will keep things concrete down the middle, while Mikael Lustig and Ludwig Augustinsson are expected to support them from the flanks. Sweden’s back four are hard to beat, as they have conceded only 2 goals in the group stage and earned 2 clean sheets with the help of goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
Emil Forsberg and Viktor Claesson were very impressive on the wings in a 4-4-2 formation against Mexico. Andersson would be expecting more from the duo, especially from Forsberg who is gathering interest from several big clubs in Europe.
The strike partnership of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen have found the back of the net just once in the World Cup so far, and the duo will need to deliver in order to get Sweden past this round.
The absence of Sebastian Larsson is a huge blow, with the Hull City midfielder was in charge of the set-pieces. His pinpoint delivery would have caused a lot of problems for the Swiss defence.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig, Granqvist, Lindelof, Augustinsson; Claesson, Svensson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Toivonen, Berg
Vladimir Petkovic has an injury-free squad right now but has other concerns, as his key players Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar are suspended from participating in the Round of 16 match. Both of them accumulated two yellow cards in the group stage rounds. Although the manager has claimed that he has no regrets over his decision to start them against Los Ticos as his priority was to qualify for the next round.
Mario Gavranovic, who replaced Haris Seferovic in the last match against Costa Rica, brought in a very positive impact to the side and is expected to start again against Sweden. The player would be the central striker and will look to set up attacks for the wingers to go ahead.
Despite Sweden topping their group, Switzerland might feel they have the better quality to go further. Moreover, they will want to get Xherdan Shaqiri on the ball as much as possible, as he can deliver the end product when his side needs it most.
The Swiss wingers move regularly towards the goal, and the empty spaces are taken up by the fullbacks, hence Michael Lang who will replace Stephan Lichtsteiner at that position will be tested under this role, as he could be considered as a weak-spot by the Blagult.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lang, Djourou , Akanji, Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Gavranovic
- Sweden are undefeated in their last three games against Switzerland (1 win and 2 draws), their last encounter was in March 2002, resulting in a 1-1 draw.
- This will be Sweden’s 50th game at the World Cup, becoming the 11th side to reach that tally. Only Mexico have featured in more games without ever winning the tournament.
- Since Switzerland reached the quarter-finals at World Cup 1954, Xherdan Shaqiri is the only Swiss player to have scored in the knockout stages of a major tournament. It was at Euro 2016 against Poland.
- Switzerland have lost only one of their last 25 games (Won 17 Draw 7), that came against Portugal in October 2017.
- Since finishing as runners-up on home soil in 1958, Sweden have progressed past the second round of the World Cup only on one occasion, it was in 1994 when they finished third. Whereas Switzerland last made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1954, since then they always got knocked out whenever they’ve reached the round of 16 (1994, 2006, 2014).
Player to Watch
Sweden’s defence will give a lot of attention to Xherdan Shaqiri and Steven Zuber. This is where Blerim Dzemaili needs to repeat the impressive performance he gave against Costa Rica, Dzemaili will have to be up to the task once the attack gets over-reliant on the wingers.
With Sweden’s defence giving a lot of attention to the other three forwards, Dzemaili will have a lot of space and not much focus towards him, and he might end up giving a performance similar to his previous one. Moreover, this could be the 32-year-old’s last World Cup or possibly his last match in it.
Sweden 1-2 Switzerland
The 2018 FIFA World Cup knockout stages have kicked off with all surprises, as many big teams have been knocked out by weaker oppositions so far. But, with the two sides matching quite evenly on strengths and weaknesses, this tie is going to be very exciting and full of shocks.
However, considering the Blagult have emerged as one of the most formidable defensive units at the World Cup, Sweden has a chance to stop Switzerland. Switzerland have already shown their capability in producing things in their favour in the group stage so far and should be able to do the same against Sweden.
While this match is extremely tough to call, we think Switzerland have the potential to narrowly edge out Sweden. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for the Swiss national team.