Sweden will be on alert for the penalty box diving of the England wing-back Ashley Young in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final, according to a member of Janne Andersson’s squad.
Emil Krafth describes himself as a Manchester United fan and, as such, the defender says that he has watched a good deal of Young, who has been involved in a number of diving controversies.
“I know him well,” said Krafth, who plays at Bologna. “I am a Manchester United supporter and I have seen him a lot. He is a good player, very fast, who likes to cut inside. We must do not do anything stupid with him inside the box.”
Sweden are the underdogs for the game in Samara but there is the feeling within the squad that the tag will suit them. The winger Viktor Claesson believes that the pressure will be on England. “They will expect to beat us and be expected to beat us,” Claesson said. “But we are going to make it difficult for them.”
The captain, Andreas Granqvist, had a warning for England’s fans. “I read something about people in England suggesting that Sweden were a dream opponent,” he said. “Someone said something about 99 times out of 100 they would beat us? Well, it’s fun for England to have that sort of confidence. Let’s play the game and see how things go. Sweden usually play well against England. We’ve had good results against them.”
The last time that the nations met was in a friendly in 2012 when Sweden won 4-2, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring all four goals, including an outrageous kung-fu-style kick from long range. Ibrahimovic retired from international football after Euro 2016 and he is not at the World Cup but, at times, it can feel as though he is.
Ibrahimovic’s status is so heavyweight that he remains a talking point and he made headline-grabbing comments about the Sweden team after the second round of group stage ties. “I felt I can do it much better than them, obviously – and I still feel that,” Ibrahimovic said.
Victor Lindelof says that he will be “about 95” by the time people stop asking him about Ibrahimovic and none of the players have been able to dodge questions on him.
But Andersson’s squad have moved on from their long-time talisman and, in the absence of him and other any glamour name, the manager has placed the emphasis on the collective. The results have followed. Sweden finished on top of Group F, ahead of Mexico and Germany, before beating Switzerland in the last 16. Their compact style and unquenchable spirit have made them tough opponents.
“We are a nation to be taken seriously,” Lindelof said. “It’s difficult to play against us because we defend very well and it’s hard to find spaces between the lines. We defend very well – with all 11 players on the pitch.”
There has been a clamour in some quarters to anoint the attacking midfielder Emil Forsberg as the creative heir to Ibrahimovic but nobody inside the camp seems to like the comparison.
“Ibrahimovic is the best player we had in Sweden and it’s difficult to compare players with him,” Lindelof said. “But Emil is a fantastic player and he deserves all the good things in life. I haven’t spoken to Ibrahimovic about what he has said about the team. How old will I be when people stop asking me about him? About 95.”
Claesson added: “It was a long time ago that Ibrahimovic retired. We don’t pay attention to that talk. I didn’t even play in that team so for me it doesn’t matter. He can just keep on talking but I think he will be happy for us now. Am I frustrated to keep being asked about him? Yes! It’s better to focus on the players who did a great job here.”
It was put to Claesson that, whereas the Sweden set-up used to revolve around one man, it was now about the team, “Yes,” he replied. “It’s perfect for us and for Sweden, the country. I think we like this. We are underdogs and a team together. It’s perfect.”