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|EURO 2012 Preview: Sweden|
The Blue-Yellow will be coming face to face with co-hosts Ukraine, Euro 2000 winners France and England in the Group stages of this year’s European Championships. Hamren’s men will be looking to make a good start to the tournament when they face Ukraine in their first game.
The pain of missing out on World Cup 2010 will have made the senior veterans hungrier. Group D looks like a three-horse race between Sweden, France and England. But with the inexperience of Ukraine and with so many questions hovering over England, Sweden could be poised for a spot in the knockout round
Hamren will look to rely upon some of his vastly experienced members of the squad to produce inspiring performances. The Swedes have quite a few experienced players in the form of veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has 76 caps to his name. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson and midfielder Kim Kallstrom also have around 90 caps each, while defender Olof Mellberg and midfielder Anders Svensson each have over 100.
However, the proper balance of youth with experience is what will give Sweden an edge over the rest of the teams in the Group. The new faces in Hamren’s travelling party include the likes of Martin Olsson, Jonas Olsson and Rasmus Elm who have less than 40 caps between them.
An inflamed nerve in the thigh muscle means that Manchester City forward John Guidetti will miss out on this year’s European championship after some devastating displays in his loan spell at Feyenoord where he scored 20 goals in 23 appearances.
Fortunately, the exclusion of Guidetti won’t affect Sweden much, especially given the array of attacking talents at their disposal. The captain and their most influential player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains the heart of their attack and will be responsible for leading the line for Hamren’s team.
The captain and undoubted star of the side is likely to play the role of a lone forward as seen for his club. Sweden’s hopes of making it beyond the Group stages will be hugely dependant on the kind of performances Ibrahimovic comes up with. Should Zlatan replicate his prolific club form which saw him amass a staggering 35 goals in 44 appearances last season, then Sweden could cause a few upsets along the way.
Though defence has always been Sweden's prime strength, their ability to hit the opponents on the break can surprise even the top teams. The presence of pace, power and organisation is likely to worry any side on the counter-attack.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC
Ibrahimovic is, without a doubt, the most valuable player for his country and our man to watch. The veteran striker will be looking to amends when he takes the field in this year’s European championships.
Ibra will be looking to leave a lasting impression on which might be his farewell to the international stage. When on form, Zlatan conjures magic on the field and Hamren will be hoping for more of the same throughout the tournament.
Top scorer in Serie A last season, the forward is known to use his sheer strength and athleticism to get himself into prime goal-scoring positions. However, Zlatan is much more than a typical target man with strength and presence. Blessed with an incredible set of skills and a peach of a right foot, Zlatan can produce wizardry of the highest order.
The defensive frailties of France and Ukraine will mean that Zlatan will have a golden opportunity to lead his team beyond the Group stages with his bravura.
SAIKAT’S PREDICTION: GROUP STAGE – Despite all the effort, Sweden will fail to get past the group stages with France and England boasting far superior squads and are clear favourites to go through.