While all eyes will be on international superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden will prove a true test for the Republic of Ireland, with a hard-working and passionate unit who will be confident of beating Martin O’Neill’s side.
So here’s a look at the starting XI that will more than likely be sent out by manager Erik Hamren to take on the Boys in Green.
Carrying a slight back injury into the tournament – also picked up from playing with his kids – Isaksson has been a constant in the Sweden team for the past decade. Commanding in the air and an excellent shot-stopper, the Kasimpasa keeper would leave a big hole in the Sweden side if injury were to rule him out, as the two other keepers in the squad are in possession of less than five international caps between them. Remarkably, Isaksson was born on the exact same day as Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Celtic defender’s place in the starting XI is assured and manager Hamren has such confidence in the right-back that he is the only player for that position in the squad. The attacking defender has won over the Swedish fans after he was ridiculed after the Euro 2012 defeat to Ukraine for leaving his post, which allowed Andriy Shevchenko to score. A hashtag, holding the post, went viral after the game. Lustig offers a real threat bombing forward on the right wing.
The FC Krasnodar centre-half is certain to start in the middle of the defence and offers a commanding presence in the heart of the Sweden side. The one-time Wigan Athletic centre-half now plays his football in Russia and has won over 50 caps for his country. Will easily deal with any long balls played into the box, but can be found out with a ball over the top.
Copenhagen defender Johansson is likely to join Granqvist in the middle of defence and like his counterpart, would not be in possession of a whole lot of pace, so will have his hands full trying to keep Shane Long quiet. Johansson will be happy to enjoy a tussle with Jonathan Walters, but the Irish striker may attempt to drag the centre-halves out of position to allow Long to flourish.
Like clubmate Robbie Brady, Olsson will start at left-back in this evening’s clash and again, similar to the Ireland player, will be quick to join in with the attack down the left flank. Olsson’s defensive work can be questionable at times and it will be a battle that Seamus Coleman will relish.
The Sunderland man was quite disappointing for his club this season, however, the energetic right midfielder comes alive in the yellow jersey of Sweden and should start. Larsson’s hard-working ethic will see him drift inside to help the two in midfield, while also trying to negate the threat of Robbie Brady going forward. Deadly with his set-piece delivery, which could prove crucial. Oscar Hiljemark could be used as an alternative to Larsson. The Palermo man is a box-to-box midfielder and a strong runner, and captained the Under-21 side to European glory last year. He is more effective in the centre but can also play out wide.
A key player in this Sweden team, Kallstrom knows Ibrahimovic’s game better than anyone, having played with the striker since they were 16 years old. Kallstrom likes to drop deep and pick up the ball from his defenders and then his first thought is to look for the big man up front. Will find it difficult to star against Ireland’s three-man midfield and if he can be kept quiet, it will nullify a lot of Sweden’s attacking threat.
The hard-working central midfielder was integral to Sweden’s Under-21 European Championship victory last year and should edge out AlbinEkdal to join Kallstrom in the middle of the park. Lewicki comes from great stock, coming through the much-lauded Malmo system, and will be anxious to announce himself on the European stage this evening. Oscar Hiljemarkcould be used as an alternative to Larsson. The Palermo man is a box-to-box midfielder and a strong runner, and captained the Under-21 side to European glory last year. He is more effective in the centre but can also play out wide.
The left-sided midfielder has received plenty of hype in the build-up to this game and will be another looking to prove that he is an effective player at this level. Forsberg has developed an excellent understanding with Ibrahimovic and drifts inside when space opens up. Will provide a stern test for Seamus Coleman.
A real fox-in-the-box centre-forward, Berg is a typical penalty area goalscorer. Not the fastest of players himself, although he has no problem calling out other players lack of speed, Berg works hard for the team, closing down the defenders and doing the work of Ibrahimovic without complaining. John Guidetti is another option for the role but will probably be used as a second-half substitute when Berg inevitably runs out of energy.
The Swedish centre-forward is fond to talking himself up but he can usually back it up with excellent performances or sensational strikes. The captain is far from finished and will be looking to show that he can still change games with something extraordinary. And despite all his silky skills, the striker is also very capable of mixing it physically with the central defenders. But there will be times that the striker goes missing in games and if Ireland can prevent the ball from coming to him, he may just get frustrated and fail to shine.
Erik Hamren (manager)
Criticised by many for not being professional or having an in-depth knowledge about tactics, Hamren knows how to get the most out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And again, he will rely on the big Swede to get him through to the knockout phases. If Zlatan fails to perform, Hamren’s real test as a manager will follow.