ST PETERSBURG • Shorn of a superstar since Zlatan Ibrahimovic's retirement, Sweden were not expected even to make it to the World Cup but now they are a win against Switzerland away from reaching their first quarter-final for 24 years.
After eliminating the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, Sweden played their part in sending defending champions Germany home early by topping Group F with victories over South Korea and Mexico.
In keeping with his squad, no-frills coach Janne Andersson is not a big name, having spent his playing and coaching career in his homeland. But the 55-year-old is credited with creating the collective spirit that has helped Sweden thrive despite lacking a standout individual.
His biggest decision arguably came when he decided not to welcome back Ibrahimovic when the striker opened the door to a return after Sweden saw off Italy in a two-legged play-off in November.
"As a team, we play as a collective, all the players together," said goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson. "With Zlatan, as a person, as a player he's an individualist, and the play goes around him. Instead, now, we play more the team all together."
Captain Andreas Granqvist also believes Ibrahimovic's absence has allowed more players to play bigger roles. "Others have been allowed to take a step forward after we lost one of the world's greatest football players," he said. "Ever since Janne took over as coach we've built and laid a new foundation. For the past two years throughout the qualifiers we fight for each other, we've shown that very clearly."
Sweden have now gone as far as they ever did with Ibrahimovic at a World Cup and could go much further in a wide open half of the draw.
Beat Switzerland and they will face Colombia or England, the only former champions left in that section, with Croatia or Russia waiting as potential semi-final opponents.
Switzerland are unbeaten in Russia, have scored in every game and a defeat against Portugal last October is the only blemish in an impressive run over the past two years.
Their defence has excelled so far but will be without key defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schaer against Sweden after both picked up two yellow cards in the group stage. Potential replacements include Johan Djourou and Michael Lang.
SWEDEN V SWITZERLAND
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