The cult of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has grown considerably over the past few years, thanks mostly to memes and his strange way of referring to himself in the third person. Ever since Zlatan retired from international football after Euro 2016, where he was rather inconspicuous in his appearance, the Swedish team have developed into a better-structured team.
Although Sweden’s adventure in Russia is now over, it has been a successful tournament for the Blågult. They have had their best World Cup since they finished third at USA 94, and it is also the first time they have reached the quarter-finals of an international tournament since Euro 2004. Now, if Zlatan thought he was the greatest Swedish player of all time, how does he explain the fact that his national team failed to qualify for two World Cups and didn’t get out of the group stages of any European Championships while he was at his peak? Now that Sweden are finally free from the cult of Zlatan once and for all, here’s what Swedish football fans expect from their national team over the next few years.
More of a team
The main quality that Sweden showed throughout their time in the 2018 World Cup was an amazing amount of team spirit. Free from big personalities, the Swedish players fought for one another like they had never done before. This was highlighted during the group stages of the World Cup, when after battling with Germany for ninety minutes they were undone by a moment of magic from Toni Kroos in injury time. The disappointment of losing such a tight game in such a heartbreaking manner would be enough to shatter any team’s spirit, but not this Swedish team.
Sweden’s unity was on show after the defeat to Germany: while their opposition celebrated wildly, the Swedes picked themselves up and got off the pitch as soon as the match was over. They knew that if they won their next match against Mexico they would qualify for the knockout stages. And that is exactly what they did, wiping the floor with Mexico in perhaps the best performance from a Sweden team since their 5-0 demolition of Bulgaria at Euro 2004.
Playing better football
In years gone by, the Swedish team were built around getting the ball to Zlatan by any means necessary, but while that was somewhat effective, it didn’t make use of the talents the rest of the team possess. At times during this World Cup, Sweden played some impressive football, mostly when RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg was on the ball. But they could also switch it up if needs be and play it towards the big men Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg up front. The change in Sweden’s style is thanks to manager Janne Andersson, who has forged a well-drilled team. His clever tactics and ability to adapt has enabled him to take a somewhat average team to the last eight of the World Cup, and that is nothing to be sniffed at.
While the likes of Andreas Granqvist and Sebastian Larsson will more than likely retire from international football now that the World Cup is over, Sweden do have a new generation of players coming through. Jordan Larsson, the son of Celtic legend Henrik Larsson, is just one of this new generation of players. Although Victor Lindelof hasn’t had a great time at Old Trafford, his performances during the World Cup may be enough to convince Jose Mourinho to give him more of a chance next season. Lindelof will be a crucial component of the national team over the next decade, and will more than likely take on the captaincy once Granqvist retires.
Now to the player who many Swedes see as there brightest hope for international success, Emil Forsberg. Forsberg has developed into Sweden’s talisman ever since Zlatan retired. The RB Leipzig player doesn’t crave the spotlight like his former teammate, and doesn’t understand when people try to compare him to Sweden’s all-time leading goal scorer. If Forsberg can continue developing at Leipzig, then a move to bigger European club could be on the cards in the near future.
Finally, Sweden are no longer a one-trick pony. Players like Lindelof and Forsberg, along with manager Janne Andersson, can continue developing this Swedish side into a team that many in Europe will fear when it comes to the European Championships in 2020.