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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Sweden vow to 'respect' threat of Switzerland in last-16 showdown

Manager Janne Andersson impressed by Tuesday's opponents, who have not lost since May 2016, as his side bid to reach World Cup quarter-finals for first time in 24 years

Sweden's manager Janne Andersson is convinced his side will be fully focused when they take the field on Tuesday against Switzerland. Georgi Licovski / EPA
Sweden's manager Janne Andersson is convinced his side will be fully focused when they take the field on Tuesday against Switzerland. Georgi Licovski / EPA

Up against the world’s sixth-ranked team, and with a World Cup quarter-final on offer, Sweden seem perfectly comfortable with where they are at.

Perhaps because the Scandinavians weren’t expected to make it this far. Perhaps because they reached the last 16 by topping a group containing world champions Germany and a vibrant Mexico. Perhaps because, without any more Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s emblematic but domineering presence, they are viewed as considerably weaker.

Perhaps, even, that Tuesday’s opponents for a spot in the last eight may well sit sixth in the world, but few agree they should rank that high. That said, Sweden will give Switzerland their full attention. For that is what has taken them this far.

“One strength throughout all our matches regardless of who we’ve faced is we’ve showed the greatest respect for the opponent,” manager Janne Andersson told the media at Saint Petersburg Stadium on Monday. “And we’ve had the greatest respect for the opponents tomorrow.

"Just like South Korea [in the group] or the games in the qualifiers. It is absolutely not on my mind to focus on anything other than what we are setting out to do. We want to do a good game, we want to be really well prepared - that’s our main focus.

“I’m convinced we’re fully focused and we have a situation where we really need to reach the level of peak performance. If we can reach that level we can win against Switzerland. We need to get there tomorrow.”

To labour the point, Andersson reeled off Switzerland’s recent record. They are unbeaten in nine matches, have tasted defeat once in 90 minutes since May 2016, and in qualifying, won nine of 10 games.

“That ranking is based on previous performance, I can’t sit and rank each team,” Andersson said, typically drolly. “There’s people in Fifa who are doing this and we’ll just assume they’re able to do their maths. They probably are somewhere there. Whether they’re at 6th precisely, it’s not for me to say.”

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And maybe people do not give Sweden their due, either. They have exceeded expectations in Russia, but also en route, finishing above the Netherlands in qualifying and defeating Italy in a two-legged play-off.

Considering what they have achieved to get to Switzerland – Sweden's play is based on cohesion - their European rivals would be wise to fully appreciate the task at hand.

“If others underestimate us or not, that’s something you have to ask them,” Andersson said. “I’m not spending time thinking about that. We have a clear idea, a clear game plan, and the players have been incredibly loyal to that idea and that’s why we’re here today."

It was a view trumpeted by Andreas Granqvist, Sweden’s captain. The defender has been integral again, scoring two penalties in the group stages, and so does not fear the prospect of Tuesday’s knockout tie mirroring Sunday’s matches by going to a shootout.

Like his manager, and no doubt his teammates, he is wary of a “strong” Switzerland.

“We know about our weaknesses and our strengths,” Granqvist said. “We know that Switzerland have been playing really well for a long period of time: they’re the favourites for the match tomorrow.

“That we would in any way underestimate them is not even on the cards. We know what brought us here: a very strong collective defence and the courage to attack as well. We’re going to give everything we can tomorrow and we’re going to have a same approach as previous matches and take the fight to them as best we can.”

Do that, prosper, and Sweden will have a first World Cup quarter-final in 24 years. That celebrated side, boasting Tomas Brolin, Martin Dahlin and Henrik Larsson went on to finish third in the United States, setting a standard Swedish teams since have failed to match.

“That was a very long time ago,” Granqvist said. “Of course we hope to be able to get to that level. As I said, we’re not there yet. We’ll do everything in our might to give a good performance tomorrow and qualify for further rounds.

But the World Cup in 1994 was extraordinary. Let’s see if we can get to that level.”