The winner takes it all. England will meet Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup at 3pm tomorrow, the first time the countries have met in the World Cup finals since 2006 (the last time, we drew 2-2). Eric Dier, here we go again.
Hold the gags, though. Sure, Sweden has a population roughly equivalent to London’s but its cultural stature dwarfs its size, and its football team are punching merrily above their weight. Abba, Ikea, Spotify, Alicia Vikander, Alfred Nobel, Saga Norén, your boys will take one hell of a beating.
For London’s Swedish population, there’s an unusual feeling of Stockholm syndrome about this fixture. London is the largest Swedish city outside Sweden, with 100,000 making their (second) home here.
“Playing England is special for us”, says Torbjörn Sohlström, the Swedish Ambassador to the UK. “Many Swedes will have had some little part of their heart supporting England from the start. But the big part will be supporting Sweden.”
But where will the yellow-and-blue clad crowds be watching?
It was all yellow
If there’s a hub, it’s Marylebone, where you’ll find Sohlström’s Swedish Embassy, a smorgasbord of Scandi shops and the century-old Swedish Church (Sohlström will be watching from the church courtyard tomorrow, where there’s a hastily erected screen). In Paddington, meanwhile, the unrelentingly optimistic online community group London Swedes will be packing 500 of their countryfolk into Smith’s Bar and Grill, a restaurant, to watch the match (yesterday, it sold out within an hour of tickets going online).
“You’ll find us all over London,” says Shania Hama-Ali, marketing director for London Swedes. “When we’re celebrating Midsommar, most Swedes turn up at Hyde Park and we have very big celebrations there, unofficially. Then of course you can always find a lot of Swedish people at Ikea.” Really? “Yes. I know this sounds like I’m making it up but when you’re missing home, you go there and read about Svenbertil and Poäng furniture, and all those letters you don’t use. It makes you feel better.”
Line your stomach. The tiny Bageriet bakery in Covent Garden has excellent cinnamon buns, semlor and princess cakes, while the Nordic Rök restaurants in Shoreditch and Islington serve up slabs of pickled veggies and smoked meats.
From Sweden via New York, Aquavit has a spot now in St James’s Market. Think authentic Swedish food, from herring to shrimp skagen (and yes, meatballs) plus a huge range of the eponymous aquavit, or akvavit, Sweden’s favourite schnapps.
Scandinavian Kitchen near Oxford Street sells everything from salty liquorice to open meatball sandwiches. It’s a go-to spot for homesick Scandinavians.
For cardio, there’s “Swedercise” with Friskis & Svettis London: a joyful cardio core strength workout.
And you can be too…
As long as it’s yellow or blue, it’ll do. “There’s a lot of fancy dress,” says Lena Hunt, chair of the official Swedish fan group in Russia. “Pippi Longstockings, full body paint, Minions from Despicable Me, men dressed as women, women dressed as men. But everything — everything — has to be yellow and blue.”
In London, you’ll hear the Swedes before you see them. “We love chanting, like England,” says Leo Rollén Picking, a naturalised Londoner from Sweden. “We both absolutely love screaming. There’s in med bollen i mål. It means, “In with the ball in the goal”. The grammar flip there is quite funny.”
Sing the anthem
“When we dig for gold in the USA”, by GES, is the Swedish answer to The Lightning Seeds’ “Three Lions”, a happy hangover from their foray in the 1994 World Cup in the US, in which they reached the semi-finals.
The Swedish fans have their own traditions. In Russia, they’ve brought watering cans filled with beer to matches, one of those peculiar idiosyncrasies that no one can explain but which everyone seems to know about.
“Kanna på kanna på! Kanna på kanna på! Vi är från Svealand. Hundratusen man!”, they cry “I think it started at an under-21 game. It’s basically an ode to a little watering can,” says Hunt. “One of the lads found one on the way to the stadium, and somehow snuck it past security.” Or, it’s from football club IF Djurgården in Stockholm. “Kanna På” is slang for work harder, or “crack on”!”, says Picking. “It’s encouraging the fans to get them to make more noise.”
There’s no real nickname for the national team — although they sometimes borrow the national hockey team’s moniker, The Three Crowns. A worthy rival to the Three Lions, then.
England and Sweden have in fact clashed more recently — at Euro 2016 in France, although the teams didn’t meet, the fans did. “The English started chanting, “you’re shit, but your wives are fit”, says Picking. So we came back, “Go home to your ugly wives. It was brilliant. Everyone took it well.”
The team sheet
If England are pleasantly surprised to find themselves in the quarter-finals, the Swedish are gobsmacked. This was meant to be a rebuilding period.
“To be honest, we didn’t even expect to go through from the group,” says Hunt. “When we changed the manager we thought he was going to build a new team. We didn’t even expect to qualify. We don’t know what’s going on.”
They’ve dropped the ageing (but still iconic) Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the former Manchester United star enjoying his twilight years at LA Galaxy in the US. Instead, under the expert management of Janne Andersson, they play in a well-drilled four-four-two formation, with a flat back four (cue the Ikea jokes …).
They beat Mexico 3-0 in their final group match and went through after the Germans surprisingly lost to South Korea. In their previous match against Germany, the Swedes had agonisingly lost to a last-gasp free kick from Toni Kroos. That set up a last 16 match with Switzerland, which Sweden won thanks to a deflected Emil Forsberg goal. The robust, tricky winger is one to watch on the flanks.
To qualify for the tournament, they knocked out both the Netherlands and Italy. Giantkillers indeed.
“Alright, we don’t have a star in the team now,” says Hunt. “But everybody’s working together. It’s alright to make a wrong pass, no one gets angry, everyone’s fighting for each other.
Oddly,Swedes are our biggest fans. “We’ve always admired England in many ways,” says Sohlström. Swedish television always shows Premier League games, he says, while plenty of Swedish players play — and have played — at top English clubs. Sebastian Larsson, 33, the Swedish set-piece specialist, began his career at Arsenal before going on to play for Birmingham City, Sunderland and Hull here in the UK. He now plays back in Sweden for AIK).
“We were watching the England v Colombia game, and of course all of us were rooting for England before we realised Sweden were meeting them next,” says Hama-Ali. “Then we switched pretty fast.”
Dreadlocked star striker Henrik Larsson, now retired, was revered during his time at Celtic, and later at Manchester United. The former affiliation is, apparently, all the more reason for Scotland fans (and everyone else) to get behind Sweden.
“We are totally stunned by the amazing World Cup support from people outside Sweden,” announced Sweden’s official Twitter account on Tuesday.
“PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSE beat England. From Scotland,” came the reply.