European Championship mainstays Sweden might consider themselves due a decent run. A last-eight showing in 2004 is their best result since reaching the semi-finals 12 years earlier, when they hosted the tournament, and that would be beyond most expectations this time around. But Erik Hamren’s side does include a gamechanger in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and may also be encouraged by the injuries that have afflicted Group E rivals Italy. A second-placed finish would provide a winnable tie against a team from Group F, and if they can get off to a good start against Ireland in their first game then Sweden might just have the capacity to cause a surprise.
THE BIG QUESTION
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Will this be Ibrahimovic’s tournament? Sweden’s talisman and undisputed superstar has generally had to lift workaday national teams on his own over the last decade and a half, and it would take a brave punter to bet on the 34-year-old tasting genuine success with Sweden. Despite his ego and box-office status, Ibrahimovic – the team’s captain – has been a dedicated servant down the years, winning more than 110 caps, and his final season at Paris Saint-Germain proved he is still a formidable proposition at the top level. If a hardworking, tightly-knit Sweden team can provide him with a platform to be decisive in what is probably his last international tournament then, as Leicester City showed in the Premier League this season, perhaps anything could be possible.
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HOW FAR WILL SWEDEN GET AT EURO 2016?
Sweden are short of obvious inspiration if Ibrahimovic is kept quiet but Emil Forsberg is a promising operator on the left and Marcus Berg is a selfless foil who has just enjoyed a third prolific season with Panathinaikos. An experienced defence looks solid enough, with the 33-year-old Kim Kallstrom operating in front of it, and a number of the 2015 UEFA Under-21 Championship-winning squad will be waiting in the wings to freshen things up if called upon. One of them, Oscar Lewicki, should start in the centre of midfield.
THE MANAGER: ERIK HAMREN
The 58-year-old Hamren had big shoes to fill when he took over from long-serving coach Lars Lagerback in 2009, initially managing Norwegian side Rosenborg in tandem. He took Sweden to Euro 2012, where a disappointing campaign ended at the group stage, but saw them fall to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal in the play-offs for World Cup 2014. Now he leads Sweden in another European Championship and the expectation is that he can take them through the group phase; either way, he will step down from the role after the tournament.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: While there has been plenty of hype about Ibrahimovic’s possible move to Manchester United, his immediate priority is with Sweden and their fate this summer probably rests on his shoulders.
Oscar Lewicki: The Malmo midfielder, now 23, was one of the stars of last year’s Under-21 side and has made a senior team his own. Industrious and technically able, he was on Bayern Munich’s books between the ages of 16 and 19.
Portugal's Bernardo Silva and Sweden's Oscar Lewicki in action
Image credit: Reuters
Emil Forsberg: A promotion winner to the Bundesliga this season with Red Bull Leipzig, left winger Forsberg scored the first goal in the Denmark play-off and has attracted the attention of Premier League clubs Everton and Liverpool.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Only one place to look here. Ibrahimovic and whoever manages his social media accounts have created his image down to a tee – but that does not stop many of the pronouncements and memes on, for example, his Instagram account being immensely entertaining.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
The familiar 4-4-2 remains, but the question is whether Ibrahimovic plays as the main central striker. There were times in qualifying when he was used slightly deeper with Berg as the centre-forward. Kallstrom will be the creator from deep in midfield.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Sweden might not have wanted to settle for a place in the play-offs, but the manner of their progress to France could not have been more uplifting. They had finished third in Group G behind an impressive Austria and Russia, who overtook them after the Austrians had romped to a 4-1 win in Stockholm. It meant a Scandinavian derby against arch-rivals Denmark for a place in Euro 2016, Sweden winning the home leg 2-1 before a brilliant Ibrahimovic double put the tie beyond the Danes in Copenhagen. Denmark pulled two goals back, but it was all too late and Sweden’s celebrations were jubilant.
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