Sweden will have to do without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Euro 2020, but young talents like Alexander Isak and Dejan Kulusevski are bidding to make sure the veteran’s absence isn’t too keenly felt.
Kulusevski, who has had a meteoric rise in Serie A with Juventus, and Isak, another 21-year-old prodigy from Real Sociedad, will both be making their first appearances at the European Championship in the blue and yellow of Sweden.
After a much-touted return to the national team at the end of March after an almost five-year hiatus, Ibrahimovic had his sights set on once again playing in an international tournament.
But hopes for a return of “God”, as he called himself with typical immodesty the 39-year-old’s hopes were dashed in mid-May when his club AC Milan announced he had injured his left knee and would be out for at least six weeks.
Simon Bank, a sports columnist for newspaper Aftonbladet, told AFP Sweden had other options up front.
“For once there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the attacking players. Dejan Kulusevski has established himself at Juventus and Alexander Isak has taken great steps in La Liga.”
Even though neither have played in a World Cup or Euro, both of them “have already proven that they can excel at the highest level.”
Another young new asset to the team is forward Jordan Larsson, who after a strong season with Spartak Moscow will have big shoes to fill, taking the position left open by Ibrahimovic.
– Forsberg key –
For David Vukovic, a Swedish football writer, the younger generation “would have gained a lot from playing with (Ibra) and being with him off the pitch.”
“I also believe that the hype around the team would have been a lot bigger with Zlatan in the squad,” Vukovic told AFP.
However, the team will not just consist of greenhorns and will be able to rely on the experience of more seasoned players like Marcus Berg.
At 34, Berg is “not the most intriguing of forwards, but a solid worker who opens up spaces and steals the odd goal,” Bank said, adding that teaming him up with Isak should be coach Janne Andersson’s “obvious first pick”.
RB Leipzig striker Emil Forsberg is also a force to be reckoned with.
After a solid season in the German Bundesliga he could once again prove to be pillar of the team, as he demonstrated at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“Emil Forsberg is absolutely key in this Sweden team. Whenever Sweden has a good game, Forsberg is behind it,” journalist Johanna Franden said. “It is absolutely crucial that Forsberg is in good shape for Sweden to go far in the tournament.”
With or without Ibrahimovic, attack seems to be the strength of this Sweden team, and for Franden this represents a notable change.
“Sweden usually has an abundance of reasonably good defenders and sometimes a lack of great creative attackers. This year it is completely the other way around,” she said.
Another question for coach Janne Andersson is who to partner Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof in central defence.