Ever since they lost the 1958 World Cup final on home soil to Brazil, Sweden have been punching above their weight in international soccer.
Somehow, the Scandinavian nation of almost 9.5 million people frequently manages to field teams that are more than the sum of their parts.
Drawn against Ukraine, England and France, Sweden will bring their usual pragmatic game to Euro 2012 — respectful of their opponents, but certainly not in awe of them.
Sweden shocked the Netherlands in their final Group E qualifier to secure automatic qualification as the best second-placed team.
A rampant Sweden came from behind to win 3-2, handing the Netherlands their first defeat since the 2010 World Cup final.
Coach Erik Hamren maintains that his squad is “the best in the world at getting a result without changing the way we play,” but if his team are to realize their full potential he may have some tinkering to do.
Hamren favors a 4-2-3-1 system, with AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic free to display the full range of his talents at the fulcrum of the attack.
Used primarily as a target man in qualifying, Ibrahimovic has been given a playmaker’s role in recent friendlies, to devastating effect — he has scored himself, created goals for others and generally occupied teams almost single-handedly.
Ibrahimovic has stated a preference to play alongside PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen, but the enormous physical capacity of Galatasaray’s Johan Elmander makes him hard to drop.
Despite finishing the season trophyless — an unusual occurrence in his glittering career — Ibrahimovic appears to be in top form coming into the tournament, scoring and creating chances in equal measure.
There is no doubting his prodigious individual talent — the question is whether his teammates can perform in his shadow or whether the old Swedish collective ideal is better suited to their skills.