Coach Erik Hamren seeks Swedish harmony after tough big match build-up to England

 

Kiev

The Sweden coach, Erik Hamren, took a very broad perspective last night when asked to suggest how this championship could have a positive effect on the Eurozone crisis. "I think sport has a great importance by uniting people and culture and religion. It certainly means a lot," he said, which was a good effort considering he has plenty of problems of his own to contend with.

The local difficulty known back at home as "bumgate" is one to which even the Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, has contributed after Johan Wiland, the reserve goalkeeper, was forced to bear his bottom for player to kick balls at. "If you look at the event from the big perspective I can understand how some people who don't understand the whole picture of it react to it," said Hamren, who has taking a beating of his own at home over the expansive football he ill‑advisedly went for in the 2-1 defeat to Ukraine on Monday in Kiev. "Beyond that, this is not a subject for discussion. We have more urgent issues to discuss."

The sharp division in the playing ranks – with some players coalescing behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will start tonight – and others behind Olof Mellberg, the squad's elder statesman and former captain, is another challenge.

Hamren also attempted to defuse the delicate matter of whether he called his players "cowards" after the defeat to Ukraine. "We were acting a bit too cowardly in the first half," he said. "And if you were taking that the wrong way you would have taken it that I was calling the players cowards. We were cowardly as a team. We had four big chances apart from the goal we scored and were not able to score. Better tactically and physically.

"We are in a similar situation to the qualifiers when we had games left with Finland and the Netherlands and had to win them both to go through – and we did it.

Sweden conceded two headed goals against Ukraine and, with one of England's strengths being in the air, their defensive capabilities are expected to be severely tested. However, the Blackburn Rovers left-back Martin Olsson is not worried by his side's perceived weakness. "When you look at the players the team England have, with [Joleon] Lescott and [John] Terry, they have strong players in the air – but so have we," he said.

"The last couple of games, we have lost our concentration at set-pieces but we have been working on that and we have to deal with that in the right way against England. I don't see it as a problem," Olsson added.

Two very similar football philosophies will reveal themselves tonight. Hamren, like Roy Hodgson, will demand his players seek to win more set-piece opportunities and while it was put to the manager that Hodgson knows Swedish football inside out, he countered: "I know English football really well too."

Hamren also believes Sweden will have an advantage by being based in the warmer climate of Kiev, though temperatures are due to fall to around 18C by the time the sides run out tonight. "I hope so," Hamren said, to the notion that the Swedes would carry an advantage by acclimatisation. "That's why we stayed here."

 

Swede dreams: Five weaknesses to exploit

England are notorious for struggling against Sweden in tournaments. They were held 1-1 at the 2002 World Cup and 2-2 in 2006 and in the 1992 European Championship Sweden won 2-1 to send Graham Taylor's side home. But here are five Swedish weaknesses that Roy Hodgson's men can expose:

Slow defence

Sweden's central defenders, Olof Mellberg and Andreas Granqvist, are not the quickest. Danny Welbeck can exploit this.

Martin Olsson

The Blackburn defender's unconvincing display against Ukraine means England will be looking to prey on his state of mind. Weak in the tackle and positionally poor, Olsson looks fallible.

Second balls

Sweden did not compete in midfield against Ukraine. Steven Gerrard must take the chance to drive forward and shape the game in the final third.

Defending set-pieces

Andy Carroll can use his height and strength to exploit Sweden's weakness in this department.

The lack of a sitting midfielder

Pontus Wernbloom might be given a start as a holding midfielder; without one Sweden lack depth and rely on hitting the front too quickly.

Jack Gaughan

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