“It started well but then it got worse.” This is how Sweden’s assistant coach Marcus Allbäck described last night’s 4-1 lose to Holland. The match report in this morning’s GP claims he is quite right…it was very even for the first four minutes before Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored the first of four unanswered goals for the Dutch. Shame about the next 86 minutes.
“A dark chapter in Swedish European Championship qualifying history,” is how it was described by GP, but as they graciously concede “…it must be emphasised how good Holland was.”
Channel Four commentator Olof Lundh was a little harsher. In an article titled ‘The Dutch Lesson Stings’, he wrote: “Holland thrashed, and almost humiliated Sweden. It stayed at 4-1 with it could have been much, much more.” He mentions certain “mistakes” that caused Sweden’s spectacular downfall but he never names any individual player. He also concedes that Holland were simply a better team and that the best Sweden can do is learn from them. “The only positive thing about the match in Amsterdam is that the European Championship qualifiers are far from over. Sweden can still reach the finals in Poland and Ukraine in 2012 through a second place and playoff.”
Overall the response in the media is in stark contrast to the finger pointing and pessimism of the British media to England’s 0-0 draw with Montenegro. No one is criticised. No one is blamed. No one is suggesting the tactics were wrong. No one is suggesting that the future of Swedish football has reached a new low. It is simply a case of losing to a better team.
In fact the biggest critics seem to be the players themselves. ”Catastrophic, It felt like they had complete control of the entire match.” was how Zlatan Ibrahimovic put it. ”Holland played like we wanted to play, and we played the way we hoped Holland would play,” claimed Kim Källström, in a statement that possibly sounds more confusing and convoluted when translated into English.
The significance of last night’s match was that it was the first time since Erik Hamren took over that Sweden have had to play quality opposition in a game that mattered. His biggest change to the national team since replacing Lars Lagerbäck has been a shift to a more attacking game plan. This has proved popular with fans and the media, and effective against the likes of Hungary and San Marino, but it remained to be seen if it would stand up against a team with the attacking potency of Holland.
As we saw last night, it won’t. However was it necessarily the wrong approach? Would the result be any different if Lagerbäck was still in charge with his five-man midfield? My gut feeling is that under a more defensive system they might have gotten away with a 1-0 lose. A 0-0 draw at best. During the 2010 qualifying campaign Sweden grinded out two 0-0 draws against Portugal. But they were also far from convincing against Albania, Malta and Hungary. So while they might be on the end of the odd thrashing, I’m more than happy to endure it if it means I’ll never be subjected to another frustrating 0-0 draw against Albania again.