Commentary

From Gre-No-Li to Granqvist: 10 things to know about Sweden

After missing the last two World Cups, Sweden heads into the round of 16 with hopes of recalling its glory years. The Swedes, which won Group F and face Switzerland in the round of 16 on Tuesday, have reached the World Cup semifinals four times (1938, 1950, 1958, 1994) and boast an Olympic gold medal from 1948. They got to Russia 2018 by prevailing over the Netherlands and Italy.

1. Glory at Wembley
The Swedes’ only major title came with a gold medal victory at the London Olympic Games in 1948, when they dominated all foes, outscoring Austria, Korea, Denmark and Yugoslavia, 22-3.

2. Gre-No-Li
One of the world’s greatest attacking trios, the Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm trio -- nicknamed Gre-No-Li -- led the Swedes in London. But they made a lucrative move to AC Milan, and were thus left out of Sweden’s 1950 World Cup squad because of the national team’s amateur-only policy. Sweden still managed a third-place finish with out them, while Gre-No-Li dazzled the Italian Serie A; winning the scudetto title in the 1951 season, Milan’s first since 1907. Nordahl scored 35 goals in the campaign, which hasn't been matched since in Serie A. Lore has it that Liedholm, who arrived in Milan for the 1949 season, didn’t misplay a pass until well into his second season.

3. Hosting the World Cup in 1958
After winning rights to host the World Cup, the Swedes changed their policy, not in time for the retired Nordahl, but Gren and Liedholm starred for team that finished runner-up, falling to, 5-2, to in the final to Brazil, which was led by Garrincha and a 17-year-old Pele. On the way to the final, the Swedes beat Mexico 3-0, mighty Hungary 2-1, and tied Wales 0-0 en route to facing the USSR in the quarterfinals. They won 2-0 and beat defending champion West Germany 3-1, in the semifinals.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Sweden’s all-time leading scorer with 62 goals in 116 appearances, Ibrahimovic will be considered the best Swede of all time. His larger-than-life personality accompanies the out-of-this-world goals he scores on a consistent basis. His 30-yard bicycle kick against England – one of his four goals in a 4-2 friendly win in Stockholm – is considered one of the best strikes ever. Since leaving Sweden for Ajax in 2001, Ibrahimovic has won 13 league titles in 16 years for six clubs in four countries -- the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. The 36-year-old, now with the LA Galaxy, retired from national team play in 2016. During speculation on whether Ibrahimovic would return for the World Cup, Swedish players it clear that having qualified on their own, they could also handle the World Cup without him.

5. 1994 World Cup
The Swedes' best World Cup showing in the modern era came with a third-place finish in the USA. Martin Dahlin, named after Martin Luther King Jr. and the second Afro-Swedish player to represent Sweden, scored four goals. Goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli became a fan favorite and national hero as the Swedes reached the semis with PK tiebreaker win after a 2-2 tie with Romania. After getting knocked out by eventual champ Brazil, the Swedes thumped Bulgaria, 4-0, in the third-place game.

6. The rise and fall of Tomas Brolin
Short, stocky and skillful, Brolin played at the 1990 World Cup at age 20 and famously scored against Brazil. He scored three goals at the 1994 World Cup after helping Italy’s Parma to its first trophy, a Copa Italia crown. He and Hendrik Larsen had each scored three goals when Sweden reached the semis of the Euro 1992 it hosted. But after breaking his foot in 1996, Brolin struggled to regain his fitness, gained weight, clashed with coaches, and retired at 28.

7. MLS Connection
One of 19 players representing MLS in Russia, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson has made two appearances off the bench. The Seattle Sounders defensive midfielder is the only European player from MLS at the World Cup. The eight other Swedes currently in MLS include Ibrahimovic, who joined the Galaxy from Manchester United in March and has scored nine goals in 12 games. Ravelli played for the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1998 at age 39. Anders Limpar, who played 58 times for Sweden and four seasons with Arsenal, played for the Colorado Rapids in 1999-2000.

8. Leading scorer in Russia
Central defender and captain Andreas Granqvist converted penalty kicks in Sweden’s 1-0 win over South Korea and 3-0 win over Germany, making him the team’s leading scorer so far. It also gives the 33-year-old two more World Cup goals than ever scored by Ibrahimovic, who came up empty at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Sweden failed to qualify in 2010 and 2014.

9. The playmaker
RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg won Sweden’s Midfielder of the Year award in 2014, 2016 and 2017. He’s the most skillful player on the Swedish team, with good dribbling skills and a decent shot. He's been with RB Leipzig since 2015, helping it win promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016 and a runner-up finish in 2017.

10. The coach
The 55-year-old Jan Olof "Janne" Andersson took helm in 2016 after guiding Norrkoeping to the 2015-16 Swedish Allsvenskan title. Andersson spent his entire playing and coaching career in Sweden, where he is now famous for leading Swedes to its first World Cup since 2006, having finished above the Netherlands in Group A of UEFA qualifying and downing Italy in a playoff. Photos of Andersson cleaning up the locker room after beating Italy further endeared him to Swedish fans.

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