As the official beginning of this summer’s UEFA Euro 2012 tournament in Ukraine and Poland reaches ever closer the same sense of anticipation and excuse the pun euphoria is evident within the world footballing community just as it was in South Africa in 2010, Austria and Switzerland in 2008 and so forth. Whilst riding the crest of this wave of continental enthusiasm and hope it is with huge interest that we can look back at previous international tournaments to see how teams fared and if provides any indication as to how they have grown as a team since then or even if there has been a chance of coaching staff and therefore a change of emphasis. With particular reference to the Swedish National team there has in fact been a change of Manager since previous tournaments with Lars Lagerback being removed from his post and the hugely contrasting Erik Hamren being brought into replace him, with this coaching change there has been a complete turnaround in the style of football from the Swedish team as previously mentioned in my tactical analysis on Sweden written a couple of days ago. With this being the case I will look back at Sweden’s last two European Championship campaigns in 2004 and 2008 respectively and analyse where they went wrong and how they could change their approach to improve ahead of this summer’s adventure into Ukraine and Poland which is just three days away.
Euro 2004 the highlight of the 2004 European Footballing calendar was held on the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal playing host to their first ever European Championships. Sweden under the leadership of Lars Lagerback were considered by many to simply be there to make up the numbers, not a lot of was expected of them in a group which contained Denmark, Italy and Bulgaria with the first two of those nations having particular historical success in the European Championships. Expectations back in Sweden were low with progression to the knockout stages seemingly appearing implausible and many will attribute this lack of expectation and pressure to be a significant factor in Sweden’s surprising success. Sweden in 2004 boasted a squad of undoubted individual talent including the likes of Henrik Larsson, Marcus Allback, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fredrik Ljungberg however it was much debated as to whether the conservative style of Lagerback would allow these tremendous attacking talents to portray their abilities fully. However after Sweden’s opening fixture of the Tournament with Bulgaria many of the doubts surrounding Lagerback’s Swedish side were essentially blown away with a mightily impressive 5-0 victory of Bulgaria with Ljungberg, Larsson, Ibrahimovic and Allback all getting on the score sheet with the former Celtic striker Larsson netting a brace against the Bulgarians. The result was of significant importance but the enormity of it became even more apparent after Group favourites Italy drew their opening game against Denmark which gave Sweden a two point advantage over Italy and Denmark heading into the final two games of the group. What happened next in Sweden’s Euro 2004 campaign in a sense epitomises the decade long reign of Lars Lagerback, often lamented for his lack of dynamic attacking tactics and his reluctance to move away from the traditional 4-4-2 formation Sweden were heavily criticised for not play expansive enough football. This was evident in the Swede’s second game of the group stage against the Italians, Italy took a first half lead through the prolific Antonio Casino, Italy proceeded to dominate proceedings with Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson being called into action on multiple occasions with his saves keeping the thirst for blood Italians at bay and thus keeping the defensive Swedes in the game. Lagerback’s conservative tactics proved to have worked however when with the match approaching its climax Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalised with an outrageous backheel which would prove to be the catalyst for his upcoming transfer to Italian giants Juventus. With Denmark having beaten Bulgaria 2-0 this meant that both Sweden and Denmark were on four points with the Italians on two, it was acknowledged by the media before the match that a score draw between the two Scandinavian sides in Porto would see both Denmark and Sweden qualify for the knockout stages at the expense of the Italians. The Italians once again stuttered but managed to defeat Bulgaria 2-1 with an injury time winner from Antonio Cassano which then set the stage for one of the more controversial moments in European Championship history. Sweden went behind in the 28th minute of play through a stunning Jon Dahl Tomasson volley from twenty yards, however Sweden equalised just after half time through a Henrik Larsson penalty. Tomasson restored Denmark’s one goal advantage in the 67th minute with a cool finish from inside the box which gave the Italians hope of qualifying however just into injury time the Swede’s scored to make the match level at 2-2 with Mattias Jonson firing in what can only be described as a fortuitous goal after a string of blocked shots and rebounds. This score draw as previously predicted saw both Denmark and Sweden qualify for the knockout stages with the latter as group winners, the iconic images of both Swedish and Danish players celebrating at the end of the game left a sour taste in Italian mouth’s with the 1982 World Cup Winners claiming conspiracy for the second consecutive international tournament. Sweden’s Portuguese Euro 2004 adventure was short lived after the final group game with them being drawn to face the Netherland’s in the quarter finals. The game was exciting with the Netherlands creating many of the chances with Lagerback preferring to withstand this pressure and scoring a goal on the break, Sweden came close when Ljungberg fire a sweetly struck shot past Edwin Van Der Sar only to see his shot rebound off the post. The Swede’s were able to hold out and make it to penalties however and Olof Mellberg penalty miss saw the Dutch advance to the Semi Finals at the expense of Sweden. Euro 2004 on the whole could be considered a success for Sweden with many not even anticipating them to escape the group stages however the Lagerback system was for the first time foreshadowing future disappointments.
Euro 2008-Austria and Switzerland
Sweden once again entered Euro 2008 with Lars Lagerback at the helm, there was still a lack of optimism within the Swedish people who did not think the conservative tactics used by Lagerback would be enough to see them qualify from a group which contained the resurgent Spain, the resolute Russia and the tournament holders Greece. Sweden would once again be able to call upon the experience of Henrik Larsson and Fredrik Ljungberg combined with the natural ability possessed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sweden were to begin their campaign against the holders Greece and it was to be a comfortable victory in which second half goals from Zlatan and Petter Hansson saw the Swedes take their first three points from their opening game just like they had done four years previous in Portugal. However what was different on this occasion was Spain had won their opening game by surprisingly putting four goals past Russia in a commanding 4-1 victory. Sweden’s next fixture in the tournament was against the eventual winners Spain, a team whom they knew relatively well or they thought they did after being in the same qualifying group as the Spanish in the lead up to Euro 2008. Spain took the lead through a Fernando Torres goal however it was to be Sweden who took the initiative from here with Zlatan Ibrahimovic adding to his tournament goal tally by equalising in the 34th minute. Lagerback’s tactics once again proved to be effective if not attractive for the rest of the match against Spain with Sweden defending solidly and withstanding the Spanish pressure however all this was to be to no avail as the tournament golden boot winner David Villa scored the winner in the second minute of injury time. With Russia defeating Greece 1-0 in the other game knockout out the holders it was to a direct winner takes all battle between Sweden and Russia to decide who would join Spain in the knockout stages of the tournament. Lagerback’s negative tactics were however to backfire on him in this final group game, Sweden playing in the hope of catching Russia on the break were shocked by the Russian’s fantastic ability to take their chances and goals from the Premier League bound pairing of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin saw the Russian’s defeat Sweden 2-0 and secure their place in the quarter finals knockout out the Swedes in the process. Whilst expected this was still a disappointing tournament result for Sweden and Lars Lagerback would only be given one more campaign in charge of the Swedish national team.
Euro 2012-Ukraine and Poland
With the Lars Lagerback days well and truly in the past, Sweden can approach Euro 2012 with a sense of ease, under the studious guidance of Erik Hamren they are playing free flowing, attacking and most of all entertaining to watch football. Hamren has managed to persuade Zlatan Ibrahimovic to rejoin the national squad after his retirement as a direct result of the new policy enforced by Hamren which is such a start contrast to the one set in place by Lagerback. There is absolutely no doubt that Lagerback did a terrific job with the Swedish team leading them to four consecutive tournaments however the time for change was necessary and maybe the revolution brought about by Hamren will allow Sweden to get the desired results they need in key games this summer, for example if the same situation arises this summer that saw Sweden eliminated by Russia in 2008, Hamren’s attacking and free flowing approach with his trademark 4-2-3-1 may well allow Sweden to win a match of that significance rather than attempt to stifle opponents which in most cases will not work if they are in possession of players of the highest order. Swedish fans and pundits alike are looking forward to Euro 2012 with a newfound sense of optimism and adventure and are wondering how far the easy going, fluid football loving Erik Hamren can take them in Ukraine and Poland this summer.