The Swede smell of victory

Pure joy for Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist after his penalty gave his team a 1-0 win over South Korea in their Group F opener yesterday at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Pure joy for Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist after his penalty gave his team a 1-0 win over South Korea in their Group F opener yesterday at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sweden win first opening game since 1958 with penalty awarded by VAR

GROUP F

Sweden 1

South Korea 0

NIZHNY NOVGOROD (Russia) • As Zlatan Ibrahimovic appeared at the World Cup for sponsor commitments, one fan tweeted: "When Zlatan is in Russia, Russians are the guests."

Few would argue about Ibrahimovic's sense of occasion, but Sweden showed that they can home in on the knockout stage without the iconic striker in their side.

Janne Andersson's men began the "post-Zlatan" era at major tournaments with a 1-0 win over South Korea in Group F yesterday. But another attention getter - VAR (video assistant referee) - threatened to overshadow them.

For the third time in four days, a penalty was awarded through video review. Swedish skipper Andreas Granqvist scored the winner from the spot after Viktor Claesson was upended by South Korean substitute Kim Min Woo in the 62nd minute.

  • State Of Play

  • RESULTS

  • SUNDAY

    GROUP E

    Brazil 1 Switzerland 1

  • YESTERDAY

    GROUP F

    Sweden 1 South Korea 0

  • GROUP G Belgium 3 Panama 0

    England v Tunisia

    Late kick-off

  • FIXTURES

  • TODAY GROUP H Colombia v Japan, 7.45pm

    Poland v Senegal, 10.45pm

  • GROUP A

    Russia v Egypt, tomorrow, 1.45am

Despite furious appeals, El Salvadorean referee Joel Aguilar, who had ironically been whistle-happy up until that point, initially waved away Swedish penalty claims.

But, after consulting the video, he pointed to the spot. Earlier in the tournament, France and Peru had benefited from video referrals too.

"The VAR took a while but we are very pleased they had it... I was pretty sure," Granqvist said of the wait.

The result brought wild celebrations from the hordes of yellow-clad Swedish fans, fearful their team would draw another blank after failing to score in their last three games.

Sweden had not won an opening World Cup game since 1958, when they were the hosts and eventual runners-up.

Andersson said the penalty was "crystal clear", adding: "We played the match the way we had intended, but I'm a little unhappy with the chances we didn't put away."

Sweden had 15 shots but just four found the target. Perhaps they were missing Ibrahimovic, who retired from international football after Euro 2016 and is his country's top scorer with 62 goals in 116 appearances.

A toothless South Korea did not manage a single shot on target from five attempts. They threatened only on the break where Son Heung Min's pace troubled 33-year-old Granqvist, who was without his ill defending partner Victor Lindelof.

However, they should have equalised in the 90th minute, but Hwang Hee Chan put a free header wide, squandering the Asian side's best chance.

South Korea coach Shin Tae Yong had no complaints about the penalty, and praised his team's battle with Sweden for aerial superiority. "It was unfortunate we lost," he lamented, saying he was now focused on the next game against "formidable" Mexico, who stunned world champions Germany 1-0 in the other Group F opener played a day earlier.

Sweden's victory leaves them joint top of the group and they will next face Germany in Sochi on Saturday.

"If we win against Germany, we are through. The pressure is on them," said Granqvist.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'The Swede smell of victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe