Janne Andersson’s side pipped Netherlands to second spot in qualifying Group A and then ground out a 1-0 aggregate playoff win to knock out the Italians, and it will now face South Korea, Germany and Mexico in Group F at the finals. Missing through all this was talismanic striker and all-time Swedish top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who retired from international football after the 2016 European Championship.
Though the Ibra era provided plenty of spectacular goals and outrageous sound bites, there was less in the way of World Cup success, and the Swedes missed out on both the 2010 and 2014 finals. Following the departure of Ibra and coach Erik Hamren from the international stage, Andersson has refashioned the side according to fundamentals of the country’s footballing heritage.
He has emphasised the hard work and collective spirit that saw the nation of 10 million come second to Brazil when it hosted the World Cup in 1958, and third at USA ‘94. Andersson’s team conceded nine goals in its 10 qualifiers before the Italy playoff but scored 26, eight more than group winner France.
FIFA ranking: 23
Previous tournaments: The Swedes have taken part in 11 World Cup finals, with their best result coming when they hosted the tournament in 1958 and lost the final to Brazil. It also came third in the United States in 1994.
Form guide: The high of World Cup qualification has been tempered somewhat by flat friendly performances in recent months, but the Swedes have proved in qualifying that they are capable of turning it on in competitive games.
Prospects: Meticulous in his preparations, Andersson has a habit of getting the results he needs, despite the limited resources at his disposal, and at the very least he and his team will be aiming to get out of the group. Should it finish as runner-up to Germany, it will most likely face Brazil in the last 16.
Forsberg fresh and ready to fire
Winger Emil Forsberg heads to the World Cup finals in Russia ready to step out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s shadow and take over the mantle as Sweden’s main attacking threat.
After a slow, steady rise through the Swedish club scene with Sundsvall, the 26-year-old burst on to the European scene with Malmo in the Champions League and was soon snapped up by Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. He went on to establish himself both in Germany and in the national team but it has not all been plain sailing.
Much was expected of him at Euro 2016 in France but together with the rest of a misfiring Sweden side he failed to deliver and it was sent packing after the group stage. The departure of Ibrahimovic from the international stage and the arrival of Janne Andersson as coach have been positive developments for Forsberg, who has been given the number 10 shirt and is shouldering much of the responsibility for Sweden’s attack.
With mobile, willing runners in front of him in the shape of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen, Forsberg has an array of options that did not exist when the more static Ibra led the line. He netted four goals as Sweden nabbed second place in its qualifying group ahead of the Netherlands, and his tireless running was instrumental as it edged out Italy in a two-legged playoff.
A red card and subsequent three-match suspension at the end of the Bundesliga season have given him plenty of rest before the World Cup and he should arrive in Russia fresh and ready to go. Results in qualifying have shown that when Forsberg is on form, Sweden can get a result against anyone.