Zlatan Ibrahimović knows "two disastrous matches" knocked Sweden off their stride in Group G, but Erik Hamrén's side are determined to salvage at least a play-off place.
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'Shining': a word not found in any Swedish dictionary, but one cherished by national-team coach Erik Hamrén regardless. In Hamrén-speak it is an adjective used for players radiating confidence.
There was little talk of 'shining' in September when Hamrén's men followed up a 1–0 Group G loss to Russia in Moscow with a 4-1 defeat at home to Austria, the crowd at the Friends Arena making no secret of their disappointment at full time.
"I have never seen a Swedish national side collapse like this," wrote a sports columnist in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, summing up the mood of the nation. "Zlatan was useless. So was everyone else."
Had they won those two games, Sweden would have qualified for the finals. As it is, they gathered in Stockholm for their final qualifiers with third place and a play-off slot their most realistic target. Captain Zlatan Ibrahimović acknowledged his side had not lived up to expectations against Russia and Austria. "After those matches it was right to criticise us," he said. "We are professionals. I am never happy after a defeat – sometimes not even after winning. Those were two disastrous matches."
Two goals for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday made Ibrahimović the club's all-time top scorer, and he may be 'shining' a little ahead of the games against Liechtenstein and Moldova, though he is well aware that there is absolutely no margin for error. "When I am under the most pressure, that is when I try to enjoy it the most," said the 34-year-old, who has scored six times in his six Group G games. "I think it is the same for the entire team."
Sweden will be overwhelming favourites in both matches, but Liechtenstein and Moldova are no pushovers; ask Montenegro, who had to settle for 0–0 draw in Vaduz, or Russia – who drew 1–1 with Moldova in Moscow. Hamrén's side can be fairly certain of having the lion's share of possession, but the key will be to turn that into goals.
At Monday's open training session, much focus was on speed in attack. With the full-backs swinging in crosses from left and right, one of the players given the task of finishing was John Guidetti, one of five players in the squad who won this summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship. Since moving to Celta Vigo in July he has come off the bench regularly, notably scoring in a famous 4-1 win against Barcelona.
Guidetti was not in the Sweden squad that found itself on the wrong end of such a scoreline in September, but watched the Austria game on television. "It was sad to see of course – one always wants to see Sweden win," he told UEFA.com. "But there are always new matches – that's the good thing about football." This is a first competitive call-up for Guidetti, known for his bubbly, 'shining' personality – Hamrén will hope the shine rubs off on the rest of the squad.