Swede fairy-tale run goes on

Sweden's Emil Forsberg celebrating with team-mates after scoring the only goal of the round-of-16 game against Switzerland in the 66th minute. He also made a vital contribution at the other end, making a crucial block to prevent a Swiss equaliser bef
Sweden's Emil Forsberg celebrating with team-mates after scoring the only goal of the round-of-16 game against Switzerland in the 66th minute. He also made a vital contribution at the other end, making a crucial block to prevent a Swiss equaliser before he was substituted by Martin Olsson.PHOTO: REUTERS

Unfancied Scandinavians dispatch luckless Swiss to reach q-finals for first time since '94

ROUND OF 16

Sweden 1
Switzerland 0

Swede dreams are made of this. For the first time since 1994, Sweden are World Cup quarter-finalists. They are rivalling Russia for the title of the tournament's greatest overachievers as they continue to spring surprises.

Switzerland joined their list of illustrious victims. Sweden defeated Italy in a play-off to reach the Finals, then Mexico to top a group that featured Germany. Now the Swiss, ranked sixth in the world, became their latest victims.

Typically though, Switzerland fell at the same hurdle. They have not reached the last eight since 1954 or scored a goal in the knockout stages for 64 years while Sweden progressed with another clean sheet.

They also advanced courtesy of a sizeable deflection. They fashioned more chances but the sense was that, for the first time in two years, they were missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic's calm in front of goal.

Then Emil Forsberg created room to shoot with a fine first touch. His second was a shot that was headed straight for Yann Sommer until centre-back Manuel Akanji got a touch to wrong-foot the goalkeeper.

The goal was fortunate but Sweden were deserving winners on the balance of play. They were not overawed. They began better and ended withstanding pressure well, with scorer Forsberg making a vital block to stop Swiss substitute Breel Embolo from equalising.

Once again, captain Andreas Granqvist was outstanding in a wonderfully organised, determined defence. Yet if this promised to be a tight affair, it was actually rather open. The wait to break the deadlock instead reflected upon an inability to take a chance.

These are two sides that require a finishing touch; Switzerland's lack of a high-class striker has been a problem since Alexander Frei retired and while substitute striker Haris Seferovic had a late header, Robin Olsen saved it.

Earlier, Sweden had a series of contenders for the unwanted and unofficial title of the wildest effort of the World Cup. Marcus Berg and Albin Ekdal were the worst offenders. When he was required, Sommer excelled to plunge to his right to save when Berg hooked a shot towards the far corner.

At the other end, Xherdan Shaqiri threatened but Switzerland could rue Blerim Dzemaili's miss when he marred their slickest move by shooting over. Tellingly, too, they had difficulties in the right half of their defence, where they were without the suspended duo of Fabian Schar and Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Michael Lang came in at centre-back, but was sent off in added time for tripping the speedy Swedish substitute Martin Olsson. A penalty was initially awarded, before, with the aid of the video assistant referee, referee Damir Skomina realised the offence took place outside the box.

The final whistle blew soon after that final free kick and Sweden could party like it was 1994.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'Swede fairy-tale run goes on'. Print Edition | Subscribe