SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Sweden’s gritty performances in Russia that ended with a 2-0 defeat to England in their quarter-final indicate a bright, if not very entertaining, future for Janne Andersson’s side.
The previous dozen years of World Cup disappointment were erased as the Swedes dispatched some big names and survived much longer than expected with their tight defense and penchant for punishing mistakes by supposedly better teams.
They undid the Dutch in qualifying and beat Italy in a playoff before topping a group in which Germany finished bottom and dispensing with Switzerland in the second round.
Though their determination, organization and sheer grit was admirable, they won few fans for their playing style which was often defensive and rudimentary, but also very effective.
“We did beautifully to get this far. We faced tough opponents every single match but we weren’t good enough today,” Andersson told reporters after their quarter-final exit.
“I gathered the players on the pitch and told them we had a bloody good tournament.”
Though Andersson quickly tired of the pre-tournament discussion as to whether or not Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be enticed out of international retirement, the team could have done with a goal-scorer like him as their attack misfired.
First-choice strikers Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg worked hard at the coal-face of Sweden’s defensive system but their wayward finishing, especially Berg’s misses against England, would eventually see them reach the end of the road in Russia.
Berg and several others on the wrong side of 30 such as Sebastian Larsson and captain Andreas Granqvist may now decide to call time on their international careers, but the template has been set for the future.
Jakob Johansson will return from the knee injury he sustained after scoring the playoff goal against Italy that got Sweden to the World Cup, and Albin Ekdal showed in Russia that he is well capable of anchoring the midfield with him.
Promising young striker Alexander Isak is still developing at Borussia Dortmund and winger Ken Sema impressed in Swedish club Ostersund’s recent Europa League campaign.
Regardless of their flat performance against England as they exited the tournament, Andersson’s greatest triumph is to have recreated the culture of collectivism and unselfishness that has always been at the root of Sweden’s best teams.
Keeping that going while easing in some new blood will be his next challenge.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury