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Sweden Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Sweden Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's Euro 2020 tournament, Sports Mole assesses the chances of Sweden, who are competing at their fifth successive European Championships.
Sports Mole

After falling at the first hurdle in each of the last three European Championships, Sweden will be hoping that this is their year to finally escape the group stage and advance into the knockout rounds of Euro 2020.

The Blagult were once a formidable nation on the international stage, reaching three World Cup semi-finals and one final between the late 1930s and mid-1990s, as well as making the semi-finals of Euro 1992 as the host nation. However, the Swedes have failed to replicate such success in the 21st century.

Confidence amongst Swedish fans grew earlier this year when national icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his return from retirement, but a knee injury has since ruled the 39-year-old out of the competition.

Nevertheless, this Zlatan-less Sweden side – ranked 18th in the world by FIFA – still has plenty of quality at Janne Andersson's disposal, and hopes are high that they can get out of their group and potentially reach the quarter-finals once again, as they did at the 2018 World Cup.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of Sweden's chances at Euro 2020


GROUP

Sweden qualified as a third seeded team for Euro 2020 and have been drawn in Group E with Spain, Poland and Slovakia.

The Blagult are already familiar with Spain, having faced them twice during their qualification campaign, though they claimed just one point from both encounters against them.

However, Andersson's men are less acquainted with both Poland and Slovakia. Sweden last faced the Poles back in June 2004 and have lost each of their last five meetings against them, while they have only faced Slovakia five times in their history, winning three games and drawing the other two.

Sweden will most likely be fighting against Poland for second place in Group E and their final fixture against them could prove to be a decisive clash that determines their fate.

FIXTURES

June 14: Spain vs. Sweden (8pm, Estadio de La Cartuja, Seville)
June 18: Sweden vs. Slovakia (2pm, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)
June 23: Sweden vs. Poland (5pm, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Sweden impressed during their qualification campaign for Euro 2020, finishing second in Group F after accumulating 21 points from their 10 matches, which left them five points behind group winners Spain.

The Blagult opened their account in positive fashion with a 2-1 win over Romania in Solna, before a 96th minute equaliser from Joshua King rescued a point for Scandinavian rivals Norway in an entertaining 3-3 draw against the Swedes.

Andersson's men bounced back with a comfortable 3-0 victory over European minnows Malta, before suffering a defeat by the same scoreline to Spain, which prove to be their only loss of the qualifiers.

Then, a 1-1 draw with Norway was sandwiched in between two 4-0 away wins in the Faroe Islands and Malta, before they came close to securing all three points against Spain in the reverse fixture, only for Rodrigo to score a 92nd minute equaliser.

The Swedes ended their campaign with 2-0 and 3-0 victories against Romania and the Faroe Islands respectively, finishing four points clear of their nearest challengers Norway, who had to settle for third place.


RECENT FORM

It is fair to say that Sweden's form since they qualified for Euro 2020 has been mixed. Andersson's men lost all but one of their Nations League matches in League A Group 3 between September and November 2020. The Blagult struggled to compete with France, Croatia and European Championship holders Portugal, and were subsequently relegated from the group.

Since then, their form has improved as they have won each of their last five matches, though the quality of opposition was considerably weaker in comparison with their Nations League competitors.

Sweden claimed victories against Georgia and Kosovo in their opening two World Cup qualifiers without conceding a goal, before three more wins in friendlies against Estonia, Finland and Armenia has given the squad confidence heading into their first match of Euro 2020.

The Blagult have scored in eight of their last nine international matches across all competitions, finding the net at least twice in five of those games.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (Everton), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Copenhagen), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Genclerbirligi)

Defenders: Mikael Lustig (AIK), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Andreas Granqvist (Helsingborg), Martin Olsson (BK Hacken), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Filip Helander (Rangers), Emil Krafth (Newcastle United), Pontus Jansson (Brentford), Marcus Danielson (Dalian Yifang)

Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson (AIK), Albin Ekdal (Sampdoria), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Gustav Svensson (Guangzhou), Ken Sema (Watford), Viktor Claesson (Krasnodar), Mattias Svanberg (Bologna), Dejan Kulusevski (Juventus), Kristoffer Olsson (Krasnodar), Jens-Lys Cajuste (Midtjylland)

Forwards: Marcus Berg (Krasnodar), Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad), Robin Quaison (Mainz), Jordan Larsson (Spartak Moscow)


STAR PLAYER - Alexander Isak

With Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic absent from this year's tournament, plenty of expectation is set to fall on the shoulders of 21-year-old Alexander Isak.

The striker heads into Euro 2020 after an impressive campaign in front of goal for Spanish side Real Sociedad, scoring 17 times in 34 La Liga appearances.

Born is Stockholm, Isak began his professional career with local club AIK, but after only a year in the senior side he was quickly snapped up at the age of 17 by Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund. At the same age, Isak became Sweden's youngest ever goalscorer, finding the net in a 6-0 thrashing against Slovakia in 2017.

However, the striker struggled to break into the German club's first team and was subsequently loaned out to Dutch side Willem II in 2019, where he scored 13 goals in just 16 appearances. That form alerted Real Sociedad, who decided to pay a relatively small fee later that summer to sign Isak, where he has since elevated his game and become one of La Liga's leading marksmen.

Isak, who has already racked up 20 international caps and six goals, is a tall, physical and technically gifted centre-forward who has been dubbed Sweden's brightest talent since Ibrahimovic. The youngster will hope he can live up to the hype and impress at his first major tournament.


MANAGER - Janne Andersson

Following a disappointing Euro 2016 exit at the group stage, Erik Hamren's seven-year spell with the Swedish national team came to and end, and he was replaced by Jan Olof 'Janne' Andersson, an experienced coach who will be taking the reins this summer.

Before stepping into management, the 58-year-old enjoyed a playing career in the lower divisions of Sweden, spending 11 years with Alets IK, with whom he was the club's record goalscorer. He finished his career with Laholms FK, where he became player-manager for one season before his appointment as a full-time coach.

After five years in charge, Andersson then moved to Halmstads BK and guided the club to a second-place finish in the Swedish championship in 2004, winning the Coach of the Year award as a result. He then celebrated his first league title with Norrkoping in 2015, the club's first league triumph in 26 years, before becoming the Swedish national team manager a year later.

Andersson's first campaign in a major tournament was a successful one, guiding the Blagult to the top of their 2018 World Cup group, finishing above Mexico, South Korea and surprisingly Germany. They then edged past Switzerland in the last 16, before losing to England in the quarter-finals.

In the last four years, Andersson has struggled to strike a balance between youth and experience, but he believes his 26-man squad this time around has the quality to reach the latter stages of Euro 2020.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Semi-finalists (1992)

Sweden made their European Championship debut in 1992, directly entering the finals by virtue of being hosts.

The national team had previously underperformed for more than a decade until Tommy Svensson's youthful side managed to top a challenging group containing England, France and eventual winners Denmark. The Blagult made it through to the semi-finals before losing 3-2 to Germany.

Four years later, Sweden failed to qualify for Euro 1996, but since then they have competed in each of the last five tournaments. However, they have been eliminated at the group stage in four of the previous five finals, reaching the quarter-finals in 2004.

Sweden have failed to win a single game in each of ther last two tournaments, but Andersson is hopeful that their fortunes will turn around at Euro 2020.


PREDICTION

With a youthful squad and an experienced manager, Sweden are hoping that they can find the right formula to escape the group stage at the fourth time of asking.

Three-time champions Spain are the strong favourites to top Group E, so Andersson's men are set to battle it out with Poland for second place.

The Swedes may just have that extra quality in their squad to edge above the Poles into the top two, although their campaign may come to an end when they encounter a tricky last-16 clash against the runners-up from Group D, which could potentially be either England or Croatia.

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