Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 16 News List

World Cup: Forsberg leads Sweden into quarters


Sweden’s Emil Forsberg, left, vies for the ball with Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri in their FIFA World Cup round-of-16 match in St Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA

Sweden’s Emil Forsberg on Tuesday provided a rare moment of poise from a game badly in need of some inspiration to fire the Scandinavians into a first World Cup quarter-final in 24 years with the only goal against Switzerland.

The RB Leipzig midfielder neatly worked space for a shooting opportunity on the edge of the penalty area 24 minutes from time, but still needed a slice of fortune to set up a last-eight meeting with England as his shot deflected off Manuel Akanji to leave Yann Sommer stranded.

On paper the least attractive game of the last 16 unfortunately lived up to its billing with little for their quarter-final opponents to fear on Saturday.

However, while not the most pleasing side on the eye, Sweden’s basic approach with battering-ram strikers Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg in an old-fashioned 4-4-2 set-up has taken Janne Andersson’s side past the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, and helped send world champions Germany home at the group stage.

In keeping with Andersson’s emphasis on a team ethic for a squad lacking in individual star talent following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s retirement from international soccer, Forsberg has had to sacrifice some of his qualities for the team.

Forced to play wide left of the midfield four rather than his favored position in a central playmaking role that has seen him shine in the Bundesliga, Forsberg was often reduced to covering the ground rather than getting on the ball in Sweden’s three group games.

“Put your head down, work hard, focus — it doesn’t always go your way. Things will go wrong, but you need to stand with both feet on the ground knowing it is perfectly possible to succeed,” said Forsberg of his willingness to fit into the team ethic. “I’ve always worked that way. Nothing is going to change.”

Even before his goal, Forsberg looked the most likely player to make an impact as Swiss duo Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka failed to shine in a bizarrely passive performance from the side ranked sixth in the world.

However, Sweden lacked the finish even when they did get into good positions, as Berg and Albin Ekdal fired horribly off target before the break.

Forsberg had been linked with a near £50 million (US$66 million) move to Liverpool and Arsenal after a brilliant first season in the Bundesliga saw him score eight goals and provide a league-leading 19 assists to fire RB Leipzig to second place behind Bayern Munich in the 2016-2017 season.

Having made a huge effort to help Sweden get to Russia in the autumn, his club form dipped due to an injury in the new year as Leipzig missed out on a return to the UEFA Champions League.

Yet, for his country, he remains the most obvious source of creativity.

“In every part of his game, he contributes,” Andersson said. “He has those decisive qualities.”

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