First off, there is nothing better in all of international sports than the beginning of the game when the crowd stands and sings their respective national anthems along with their teams. Nothing. I will not argue this point. It is fact.
Anyway, Sweden played Russia last night. And by that I mean Sweden showed up for the game. And that’s about it. Because they got slaughtered. Even I could see that. Russia was like the little brother who suddenly realizes that they aren’t as little as they used to be and can actually hang in there when playing sports. While the big brother bitches about being fouled, little brother just keeps playing. And winning. This seems especially apt considering that Sweden was one of the oldest teams in the tournament, if not the oldest, and Russia was one of the youngest, if not the youngest.
While I applauded the Swedes for their ability to man up and not bitch and moan when playing against Spain (aside from the 90+2nd minute) last night they chapped my ass. So much falling down. Mouths flapping. Arms waving. Bitching about calls and non-calls. Just play.
Sweden was absolutely dominated for the first 35 minutes. Then they decided to pick it up in the last 10+1 minutes of the first half. Unfortunately, not enough to actually get that goal they needed to bring it back to a tie game. The second half didn’t get any better. There was hope from the Swedish announcers that maybe those closing 11 minutes would give the team something to build on. They were wrong.
It was pretty obvious that the Swedes just didn’t have it in them. And instead of seeing a desperation towards the end of the game I saw resignation. And that’s something you never want to see in your national team. Sweden, as a country, was ready for a victory. Weren’t all that many people that actually thought Sweden would lose this game. A tie maybe. But not a 2-0 loss.
The general consensus was that if Ibrahimovic played, then Sweden would win. Because one man makes a team in a sport with 11 guys on each side of the ball. He’s been battling a knee injury and had been taken out the previous two games immediately after having scored. He was not so lucky this time. Instead, Sweden showed that they are old, have very little offense to speak of, and what offense they do have relies on Ibrahimovic. No way to compete for a championship against the best that Europe has to offer.
Of course now people are calling for the coach’s head. And maybe Lagerbäck deserves some of the criticism. But it seemed obvious that Sweden just wasn’t as good and at least Lagerbäck had the balls to admit that. Whether that is the fault of the coach, or just a lack of talent on the Swedish side I couldn’t say. But if Sweden hopes to make any noise in the next tournament something has to change.
That being said, having watched most of three games involving the Swedish national soccer team I have adopted a favorite player. Some might assume it’s one of the big three, Larsson, Ibrahimovic, or Ljungberg. Those people would assume wrong. My favorite player is a defenseman. Olof Mellberg. Have you seen that beard? It’s a thing of Scandinavian beauty. Unfortunately, the game was not a thing of Scandinavian beauty.