It took two games, but Sweden finally lived up to its pre-tournament billing, beating France 2-0 June 19 in its final match at the 2012 UEFA European Championship.
The Blue and Yellow went to Ukraine with expectations of competing for a medal but those expectations wilted in their first match June 11 against the host country. Andriy Shevchencko, at 37 the oldest striker in the tournament, scored twice as Sweden looked disjointed and out of sync for long stretches of the match.
Four days later against England, what was once the team’s strength—its defense—looked fragile as Sweden blew a 2-1 lead and lost 3-2. The loss knocked Sweden out of the tournament even though the Blue and Yellow had the match against France still to play.
What happened and why at the tournament remains a hot topic, both among the players and the Swedish media.
“Why did we lose both games? I don't know,” said team captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the loss to England. “That is something we need to analyze and see what we need to do better, or in a different way.”
Swedish manager Erik Hamrén promised to turn his team into an attack-oriented side, and he did that, although at times it looked as if his players forgot about defense. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson seems to have lost some of the edge he once had since he began playing in Turkey. Olof Mellberg, still a force in the air, simply lost a step due to age.
Hamrén shook up his lineup for the France match, giving Ola Toivonen only his first start of the tournament—odd, since Toivonen was one of the top scorers in the Dutch First Division in 2011-12. Hamrén also started Elfsborg captain Anders Svensson in the midfield, a role Svensson thrived in throughout the qualifiers but mystifyingly lost when the tournament began.
"You have to make decisions and live with them,” Hamrén said. “I will not say that I made the wrong selection, because then I'd be singling out individual players. I take full responsibility for what we've done here.”
Hamrén said he remained upbeat about Sweden’s future especially after his side topped the French. Sweden stopped France’s 23-game unbeaten streak and shutdown a potent French attack. The Sweden manager said he thinks the Blue and Yellow are on the right path as now they begin preparations for qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"Apart from the first half against Ukraine, I feel we are on the right track as far as how I would like us to play football goes," he said. "But in game-deciding moments, we still have a lot to work on—both as individuals and as a team."