Sweden opens bid for 2018 World Cup
A new-look Sweden took the field September 6 for its opening qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Vidar Örn Kjartansson. Christian Örnberg/Bildbyran
A new-look Sweden took the field September 6 for its opening qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and came away with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Holland.
Janne Andersson took the reins from Erik Hamrén following a dismal Swedish performance at the 2016 European Championships, and he was quick to bring in many of the young players that won the 2015 UEFA Under-21 Championship. Andersson’s changes were not merely cosmetic. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, midfielder Kim Källström and iconic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic all retired from international play after the Euros. For one day at least, the Swedes only seemed to miss Zlatan.
Robin Olsen took over as the starting goalkeeper and put in a man-of-match performance as Andersson employed a defensive game plan in which the Blue and Yellow remained compact, if somewhat disorganized, at times on defense while relying on counter-strikes to create its scoring chances.
The Dutch, who came in third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but failed to qualify for this year's European Championship, struggled for long periods against the resolute Swedes. Sweden, which last played in the World Cup in 2006, recalled former Iceland manager Lars Lagerbäck as an advisor to new boss Andersson. Iceland reached the quarterfinals this past summer with a stirring performance at the European Championships in France. Lagerbäck was co-coach of the Swedish team that reached the 2006 World Cup.
With Wesley Sneijder and Kevin Strootman pulling the strings in midfield for the Dutch, Olsen was called into action early, twice saving smartly from Davy Klaassen. Sweden allowed the Dutch to control possession for much of the first half, seeking to hit them in transition when the opportunity presented itself and took the lead just before halftime.
The Swedes howled in vain for a free kick in a good position in the 43rd minute, but the danger was not over for the Dutch as Kevin Strootman then inexplicably gave the ball away to Berg on the edge of the box, and he chipped it over Jeroen Zoet to open the scoring.
The Dutch struggled in front of goal throughout but when Olsen could only parry Daryl Janmaat's shot from distance, Sneijder made no mistake, hammering home the rebound.
Netherlands substitute Bas Dost had the ball in the net again in the final minute but the goal was ruled out after the referee spotted him pushing Victor Nilsson Lindelof in the penalty area, and the game finished in a draw.
Andersson praised Olsen’s performance after the match. "Robin was our best player today and when we broke down a bit, we were all glad he was so good today.”
Sweden plays in Group A of the qualifiers with Bulgaria, Belarus, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Robin Olsen stops a shot from Dutch striker Davy Klaassen during the 1-1 draw between Sweden and Holland September 6 at Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden. Joel Marklund/Bildbyran
Cash before Cups?
Malmö team captain Markus Rosenberg was none too happy after Malmö FF sold team- and league-leading scorer Vidar Örn Kjartansson to Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv at the close of the European transfer window.
If Icelandic striker had 14 goals in 20 matches for Malmö, and despite being snubbed from the Iceland team that played in the 2016 European Championship, Kjartansson had drawn interest from a number of clubs. Malmö had originally denied being on the cusp of a deal for the Icelander only to announce his transfer on August 30 for 33 million kronor ($3.9 million). The money bolsters the coffers of the club that is already the richest in Sweden and has set records for profit in each of the last two years.
After the club announced the deal, Rosenberg was quick and harsh in his criticism of the move.
"I have trouble understanding it when we are where we are, when it’s so tight with Norrköping,” Rosenberg said. "There are 10 games left. I do not think his value would go down, rather the opposite. We have put ourselves in a position where, unlike all previous Swedish champions, we do not have to sell. The two years in the Champions League means we should not have been in this position.”
Rosenberg said losing Kjartansson could cost Malmö both the Swedish championship and a berth in next year’s Champions League.
"Obviously he is important,” Rosenberg said. "He has scored 14 goals. Clearly, the sale makes the squad thinner.”
Club sporting director Daniel Andersson defended the sale. "There has been a lot of interest in Vidar all summer. We have many good players in the squad and I am confident we will continue to do well.”
Malmö wasn’t the only club selling at the transfer deadline. IFK Göteborg accepted an offer from Bristol City for striker Gustav Engvall. Elfsborg sold midfielder/striker Simon Hedlund to Union Berlin while Kalmar FF accepted an undisclosed amount for striker Marcus Antonsson. IFK Norrköping accepted an offer from Eintracht Braunschweig for striker Christoffer Nyman.
Malmö currently leads the standings with 45 points, one better than second-place Norrköping. AIK is third with 37 points and IFK Göteborg fourth with 35.
World Cup of Hockey opens
Sweden will look to grab one last medal for goalie Henrik Lundqvist when it takes to the ice September 18 in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
The Tre Kronor face Russia in their opening game, then play Finland September 20 and Team North America, a collection of the top Under-23 players from Canada and the U.S., on September 22. The top two teams from each four-team group advance to the semifinals.
The World Cup of Hockey is a joint-effort between the National Hockey League, the NHL Players Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation. Unlike other international tournaments, the teams play under NHL rules on the smaller NHL rink. All the players on each team play in the NHL. Sweden has yet to win the World Cup and last won a major hockey title in 2013 when the Tre Kronor captured the IIHF World Championship.
Lundqvist, 34, is widely regarded as the top goalkeeper in the NHL. He has reached the Stanley Cup finals twice with the New York Rangers, only to come out on the losing end both times. The World Cup is likely his last shot at an international trophy.