Last Wednesday Sweden played their first match under new coach Erik Hamren: a 3-0 drubbing of Scotland in Stockholm. While its premature to make any judgements on the basis of one match, the signs are positive.
Unfortunately I didn’t actually get to see the match but by all accounts Sweden could have won by a lot more. It’s interesting to see how different countries saw the game. In the British media the result reflected the continued demise of Scotland in international football. If even Sweden can score three against Scotland, imagine how many Spain will score? But the Swedish media focussed on the impressive nature of the win, and the rare sight of a Swedish team playing attacking football.
In an article titled “A Perfect Match” Aftonbladet columnist Simon Black labelled Sweden’s performance as “courageous, playful and positive” in a way rarely seen in a Swedish national side. “We could not do much more than to sit and check the empty boxes.”
Traditionally Sweden has tended to play conservatively, with a strong emphasis on defending. This was certainly a hallmark of Lars Lagerbäck time as national coach, who was constantly criticised for his lack of creativity and offensiveness. Under Lagerbäck Sweden were boring but they got results and Lagerbäck was tolerated as long as he kept qualifying for major tournaments. Sweden could take points off the likes of Spain, England and Portugal, but they also sometimes struggled to put away teams like Belarus, Hungary and Moldova. When they failed to qualify for the last World Cup, Lagerbäck’s days were numbered.
Under Erik Hamren Sweden are going through a much-needed transition phase. Many of their veterans have finally retired, so Sweden’s promising youngsters are getting an overdue run in the first team. True, Anders Svensson and Olof Mellberg are still floating around, but it was refreshing to see Emir Bajrami, Ola Toivonen, Pontus Wernbloom and Mikael Lustig in the starting eleven and given key roles.
Tactically Hamren seems to be following worldwide trends by adopting the fashionable 4-2-3-1 system. He has given far more free reign to his attacking midfields, while also allowing his fullbacks to push forward. Aftonbladet called it “A Swedish Revolution.”
But this was against a Scotland side missing many of their key players, and who by all accounts were absolutely atrocious in defence. Hamren’s Sweden will hopefully avoid those frustrating 0-0 draws against the minnows, but it will be interesting to see how it holds up against a side like Holland.