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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Marcus Berg: Sweden 'have proven to everyone what we are capable of' at World Cup

Al Ain striker has been key to his nation reaching the knockout stages - all he is missing is a goal

Marcus Berg, right, has been central to Sweden's march to the World Cup knockout stages. Gregorio Borgia / AP Photo
Marcus Berg, right, has been central to Sweden's march to the World Cup knockout stages. Gregorio Borgia / AP Photo

First objective complete, and with a place in the World Cup quarter-finals within sight, Marcus Berg is looking forward to Sweden’s next test with relish.

The Al Ain striker has yet to find the net in Russia, but has played a prominent role in his side’s unlikely escape from a group containing world champions Germany and an effervescent Mexico.

Now, they face Switzerland in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, a last-16 clash that opens a pathway to the last eight and perhaps even farther. Berg, though, will not cast the mind past Switzerland.

Saying that, with Germany eliminated – despite a last-minute winner against Sweden – and the Netherlands and Italy dispatched en route to Russia, the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League’s top goalscorer concedes confidence is soaring.

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More from 2018 World Cup:

Marcus Berg: The self-deprecating striker who Sweden rely on for more than just goals

Richard Jolly: Ronaldo and Messi - constant companions destined to never win the World Cup

Day 18 updates: Spain v Russia and Croatia v Denmark in last-16

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“Of course, we have proven to everyone what we are capable of,” Berg said. “Sure, the expectations are increased, even personally, from ourselves. We have proven what we can do, so we can’t hide behind anything. So there are no obstacles. There are only possibilities to continue in the same way we have done.”

With that said, Sweden have surprised during this tournament. Although known to be compact and committed, they were not expected to match their past couple of World Cup performances, when they reached the knockout stages in 2002 and 2006. Runners-up, at home in 1958, remains their best display to date.

However, Sweden opened with a 1-0 victory against South Korea, then lost 2-1 to Germany after taking the lead, before a comprehensive win against Mexico sealed top spot in Group F. Progressing as pool winners has a nice ring to it.

“Good, actually feels very good,” Berg said. “But after the first match it wasn’t so surprising after all. We knew that the last match was going to be like a final, so we knew it was a good chance against Mexico.

“They’ve been doing really well up until our match, so we proved to everyone that we are a good team. It feels good. Relief mostly, actually. This is what we came here for, so it is now that it starts.”

Berg will be hoping he starts scoring. He did not stop once he began for Al Ain, notching 36 goals in 36 appearances last season following his transfer from Greek side Panathinaikos. His 25 in 21 Arabian Gulf League matches clinched the Golden Boot and helped his club win a first top-flight title in three years.

Berg bagged a goal in the President’s Cup final, too, as Al Ain captured that particular double for the first time in their history. He has had chances in Russia, notably against Korea, but it has not shaken his belief.

“It’s really only a goal that’s missing I think, if I’m honest,” Berg said. “It has felt good in all three matches. I have created chances, made a good job in defence, so everything feels perfect. It’s just to keep going like this.

“Had we gone out [against Mexico] then I would have kicked myself, but now we have gone past our first hurdle. I feel that everyone is contributing 100 per cent, and the same for me. I’m pleased with what I have contributed.”

Berg denied Germany’s exit made up for Sweden’s last-gasp defeat to them – “it’s more that we have eliminated the world champions, more that we show the strengths we have" – but, encouraged by the team's form until this point, he is eager to focus on what is in front, not behind.

“We will have to see,” Berg said. “As I said, our first hurdle was to qualify in the group, so we’ll just keep on going. We don’t see any obstacles on the road ahead. We are going to meet the next opponents just like we have done before, and just keep going.”