Will the next great Swedish striker please stand up?
That’s the question many are asking after Sweden’s first two qualifying matches for the 2016 UEFA European Championships. Sweden drew with Russia 1-1 and then managed to squeak past Lichtenstein 2-0 but in neither match did the Blue and Yellow look to have an heir apparent to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic dressed but did not play in either match as he continued to nurse a nagging hamstring injury. The Paris St. Germain forward is Sweden’s all-time leading scorer in men’s international football and is often catalyst for the Blue and Yellow offense. With him, Sweden has a world-class striker who offers the potential for goals at any instant. Without him. Sweden looks slightly less than ordinary.
It might have been a reach for Sweden against Russia on October 9 at Friends Arena in Solna. Head coach Erik Hamrén trotted out a completely new lineup featuring a number of younger overseas-based players such as Jimmy Durmaz, Erkin Zengin, Nabil Bahroui and Pierre Bengtsson. The new faces, coupled with Zlatan’s absence, left the Swedes chasing the Russians most of the match.
Russia took the lead 10 minutes into the game as it controlled the play almost from the off. Sweden squandered its only chance to score when Sebastian Larsson hit a pedestrian penalty that Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfejev easily swatted aside.
The visitors held sway into the second half when Ola Toivonen tied the match. Toivonen scored in the 57th minute. It was his eighth international goal.
Three days later, Sweden took on Lichtenstein and once more, its new lineup showed signs of needing more than a few days of working together. Erkin Zengin and Jimmy Durmaz scored on either side of the half as Sweden did what it had to do to gain a win.
Sweden plays in a group with Russia, Austria, Lichtenstein, Moldova and Montenegro.