Gone are the days of a conservative, defensive Swedish outfit as their new coach prepares to introduce a more exciting team at the Euros this summer
By Svend Bertil Frandsen | Sweden Expert
Despite suffering what at first looked to be a serious foot injury in Galatasaray's clash with Fenerbahce on Saturday night, Johan Elmander was still included in Sweden's Euro 2012 squad by coach Erik Hamren. Elmander was selected because the national team doctors are confident the 30-year old striker will be back to full fitness in time for the finals.
Hamren's insertion of Elmander along with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Toivonen, Rasmus Elm, Sebastian Larsson and Kim Kallstrom completed one of the most attack-minded Sweden finals squads in history, a style that will be far removed from predecessor Lars Lagerback's stern focus on physical and defensive qualities.
There is no question that Lagerback's Sweden formed a compact and conservative group of players who were always hard to break down, but at the same they lacked the vision and creativity in attack that Hamren has been so keen on introducing since his first day on the job.
Hamren launched his revolutionary reign by leaving most of the Swedish media stunned when he announced that he wanted his national team to dominate possession in his first big game, the dreaded trip to Rotterdam to face World Cup runners-up Netherlands. The experiment at first didn't succeed as Sweden were humiliated 4-1, but since then Hamren's new tactics have slowly but surely begun to pay off. It culminated with the 3-2 home win against the Dutch in October last year to secure an automatic berth for the Euros. It proved that Sweden, through their new style, have taken a huge leap towards challenging Europe's biggest footballing nations.
More than anything, Hamren's master plan was to lure AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic back into the national set-up. Often characterised by his worst critics as a self-indulgent individualist, the Rossoneri striker has turned another leaf in becoming a more humble, self-effacing character since he was convinced by the coach to come out of international retirement and take over the captain’s armband. Ibra is now the unifying force that everyone in the country had always wanted him to be.
"No question I was disillusioned on the back of missing out on the 2010 World Cup. I think we needed a fresh approach and Erik provided it," Ibrahimovic told the Swedish media.
"He has brought along a new style of play, he has instilled a new belief in us and he found a role for me in the side around which the other players are able to excel. Certainly he has been able to launch a new beginning for the Swedish team and on the back of our performances of late, we are very excited about our chances going into the Euros," added Zlatan.
|SWEDEN'S EURO 2012 SQUAD
|Mikael Lustig||Celtic||Jonas Olsson||West Brom|
|Olof Mellberg||Olympiakos||Behrang Safari||Anderlecht|
|Andreas Granqvist||Genoa||Mikael Antonsson||Bologna|
|Rasmus Elm||AZ||Anders Svensson
|Sebastian Larsson||Sunderland||Pontus Wernbloom
|Kim Kallstrom||Lyon||Samuel Holmen||Istanbul BB|
|Emir Bajrami||Twente||Christian Wilhelmsson||Al-Hilal|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Milan||Ola Toivonen||PSV|
|Johan Elmander||Galatasaray||Marcus Rosenberg||Werder Bremen|
|Tobias Hysen||IFK Gothenburg|
Where Lagerback clearly displayed a reliance on defence during a decade when the team became known for a very robust and uncomplicated style, the arrival of Hamren has signalled a small revolution within the Swedish ranks. His predecessor usually never deferred from his 4-4-2 formation, relying on defensively minded players like Hakan Mild, Magnus Svensson and Johan Mjallby. That system has now been swiped away cleanly by the new regime's offensive tactics. The idea now is that instead of holding back and waiting for the off-chance to counterattack, Hamren wants his troops to take matters into their own hands. He demands Sweden to dominate possession and put pressure on the opponents immediately when the ball is lost.
Hamren has throughout the qualifying campaign put emphasis on individual skill and slick passing rather than the hardworking, physical approach introduced by Lagerback. However, the 54-year old, who was a little-known name outside Scandinavia when he took over Sweden, has indicated he might take a more cautious approach during the finals in Poland-Ukraine.
“I wish I could say that things will be the same at the Euros [as in qualifying],'' Hamren said, "But we have to be realistic and accept that we're now playing the very best teams in Europe, which makes it tougher for a small country like Sweden.
"We'll try to win, and we'll try to do it with as positive and attack-minded play as possible. But it will depend on how strong our opponents are.''
With rivals such as co-hosts Ukraine, France and England in Group D, Hamren could be given a chance to showcase the best of both worlds.