The Sweden squad are in a state of civil war heading into tomorrow evening's game against England, as their public yearn for a return of the style of football that Roy Hodgson introduced to the country.
Two factions have emerged from what has been seen as a disastrous 2-1 defeat by Ukraine on Monday. Some players are behind the captain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and others are behind Olof Mellberg, the squad's elder statesman, a former captain who does not get on with the unpredictable striker. Ibrahimovic, who was infuriated by the Swedes' apparent indifference to defeat in Kiev, was involved in a heated pitch-side argument with the assistant coach Marcus Allback – a former Aston Villa team-mate of Mellberg's – after the game.
Yesterday the Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, weighed into a bizarre row over players taking shots at the bare backside of the reserve goalkeeper, accusing the players of unacceptable behaviour.
"People who carry expectations should be aware of that and act accordingly," Reinfeldt said.
The game known to the squad as "Pig" occurred after training, when seven players and Allback stood in a circle, keeping the ball in the air. Johan Wiland lost; as punishment he had to walk to a nearby wall, pull down his shorts and turn his backside towards his team-mates. They took turns aiming balls at him from about 20 yards away. The incident, which was not part of open training, was filmed by a crew from the Swedish newspaper Expressen and subsequently shown on its website. A Swedish anti-bullying organisation, Friends, said the players were "incredibly bad role models".
Ibrahimovic and Mellberg have been criticised for running from the field after the Ukraine defeat, without acknowledging the 13,000 Swedish fans who were present. The coach, Erik Hamren, is under fire for attempting to introduce a more attacking style to a team who have traditionally used the 4-4-2 system made popular after Hodgson and Bobby Houghton introduced it at Halmstad in 1976. The Swedes also look vulnerable in the air, having conceded six of their last seven goals and seven in 11 to headers.
Against England, the striker Johan Elmander is likely to start, in line with Ibrahimovic's demands and alongside Jonas Olsson. Anders Svensson may be recalled in central midfield, at Rasmus Elm's expense
There will be 20,000 Swedes in Kiev's Olympic Stadium, a reflection of the optimism with which the nation entered the tournament, expecting a quarter-final at least. Since Freddie Ljungberg's 88th-minute winner beat Paraguay 1-0 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, in front of the biggest gathering of Swedes outside the country anyone could remember, tournaments have been viewed as a type of festival. There was huge support for Sweden at Euro 2008 and this year tens of thousands of fans have occupied Trukhanovsky Island in the middle of the Dnieper River in Kiev – creating a "Camp Sweden".Reuse content