Sweden v Ukraine, June 11, 7.45pm
11 June ~ Former Sweden manager Lars Lagerback, who led the national team between 2000 and 2009, had a way of dealing with the unpredictable aspects of football. He tried to minimise coincidence. This meant planning everything to the smallest detail, be it the evening snack served at the players' hotel, the trip to the arena or the training sessions. Most of all, of course, his approach was manifest during games. For a decade Lagerback convinced players and fans that if Sweden were to succeed it would be with risk-minimising, safety-first tactics.
The midfield was filled with physical ball-winners (Celtic defender Johan Mjallby, for example, played in the offensive midfield role for Sweden during Euro 2000); attackers were forced to track back to cover in defence; and players were told not to take any risks during the first 15 minutes of a game, before it "settles".
With this background, it is understandable that Sweden's current coach, Erik Hamren, is greeted with as much joy as curiosity and suspicion. While Lagerback went about his business as some kind of public football servant, Hamren (who has won the league as a coach in Denmark and Norway) has a taste for fancy suits and colourful scarves. He wants his players to "shine of attitude and willpower" and clearly wants his team to play a possession game and create chances, rather than just relying on mistakes by the opposition.
As Zlatan Ibrahimovic put it in a press conference last week: "Lets not exaggerate, we're hardly Brazil." But at the same time, it is obvious that Hamren faces a selection problem if he wants to fit all his favourite midfielders into the team. Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson, Rasmus Elm, Ola Toivonen and Anders Svensson are competing for places in midfield. Whatever combination is chosen, they are skilled enough to keep the ball against any opposition.
Hamren could choose the Spanish approach and put a midfielder up front, but then again, a condition for Ibrahimovic to excel in his newfound role as a number 10 is that he has a hard-working attacker in front of him, who is able to put pressure on the opposition and give Ibrahimovic space to dictate Sweden´s attack. That role is taylor-made for Galatasaray's Johan Elmander, but if he is not fit following a foot fracture suffered in the last league game, the place could go to Werder Bremen's Markus Rosenberg, who was the last man to make the squad.
Hamren has a lot of decisions to make all over the field. As pundits and fans speculate, only four players are considered certain starters: Isaksson in goal, 35-year-old Olof Mellberg in defence, Kallstrom in midfield and, of course, Ibrahimovic.
The reason for the uncertainty is partly due to injuries and concerns over the form – is Mikael Lustig really a reliable choice for right-back after being injured and out-of-favour at Celtic? But even more than these issues is the fact that Hamren does not believe in planning too much. He has continued to experiment in the warm-up games and does not believe that a certain starting 11 need to be drilled together: "A starting 11? That's old-fashioned. I want all 23 in the squad to take part." Ulf Roosvald