The UEFA European Champion came at just the right time for some — former Sweden head coach Lars Lagerbäck and rampaging Russian hooligans among them — and at the wrong time for others, including the Swedish national team and Allsvenskan frontrunners Malmö FF.

Lagerbäck, who led Sweden from 2003-2009, is now coach of Iceland; he helped guide his Nordic warriors to their first-ever appearance in the finals of the European Championships. Iceland made its debut on the big stage June 14 and picked up a point in a 1-1 draw with powerful Portugal. Lagerbäck’s squad has a distinctly Swedish element as six of his players call the Allsvenskan home. Still, it was a British-based player, Birkir Bjarnasson, who ignited an Icelandic uproar when he scored his second-half equalizer to give Iceland a share of the points in Saint Entienne. Iceland’s performance in the match left none other than Portuguese and Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo whining after the match.


“Iceland didn’t try anything,” Ronaldo said. “They were just defend, defend, defend and playing on the counterattack. It was a lucky night for them. We should have three points but we are OK. I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end. It was unbelievable. When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend, this in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”

Iceland shrugged off the criticism, with co-coach Heimir Hallgrimsson remaining defiantly jubilant after the match. “So many things are happening for the first time for Icelandic football,” he said. “This was our first time on this stage and it was fantastic, it was just like playing at home because our fans were unbelievable and that made us feel better when we were tired toward the end. It is another milestone for Icelandic football.”

Sweden was not quite in the same mood after their opening match June 13 against Ireland. The boys in green staged a display of counterattacking football that if not for the heroics of defender Martin Olsson, who excelled at both ends of the pitch and some key saves from goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, the blue and yellow might just have been left crying into their whiskey.

Swedish “legend” Zlatan Ibrahimovic, looked only slightly interested in the match, spending long stretches dropping deep into the middle to defend and try to pick up the ball. With reports linking the outgoing Paris St. Germain striker to storied England club Manchester United, Zlatan is THE guy for Sweden, but against Ireland he failed to deliver. Instead, it was substitute John Giudetti, who left Manchester City for Celta La Vigo in Spain, who delivered the saving move for Sweden when he craftily darted along the left side and expertly back heeled a ball to Zlatan, who tried to sling a low cross in front of the Irish goal. Luckily for Sweden, Ireland defender Ciaran Clark put his foot out to clear the cross only to knock the ball into his net. The own goal cancelled an earlier from Wes Houlihan, who put Ireland in front just after the break.

The point kept Sweden’s chances in the group alive, but only barely, and is a result the Swedes could come to regret. The blue and yellow will have to show marked improvement in both tactics and motivation as they face group favorite Italy on June 17. Italy knocked off Belgium 2-0 on June 13 and appears to be a new favorite to win the tournament. Ireland represented Sweden’s best chance to grab three points but Sweden’s poor form in the Euros continued. With the draw, Sweden has won just three of their last 15 matches in the European Championship and is winless in their last 10 (5 draws, 5 losses).

The European Championships are also a source of concern for a team not even in the tournament: Allsvenskan leaders Malmö FF. The preseason title favorites were on a tear throughout May and June, winning six straight matches after losing two of their first three to open the season. Malmö went into the league break with a three-point lead over second-place IFK Norrköping. Publicly, the players at Malmö are all saying the same thing — that the five-week break for the European Championship will give them the opportunity to prepare for a long fall season. Privately, however, the Swedish press has speculated that some players, especially team captain Markus Rosenberg, think the break could hurt Malmö’s form.

The break has given the club the chance to deal with fan favorite Guillermo Molins, whose contract expires at the end of June. Despite two injury-plagued seasons, Molins is immensely popular with his teammates and has proven to be an impact player off the bench. Both sides have expressed their willingness to continue talks, but there is speculation Malmö could let Molins walk if it means hanging onto Rosenberg, whose contract expires next season.

Finally, the real attention at Euro 2016 has not been on the field but in the streets of Marseilles and Paris, where thousands of French police have battled what the press is calling a large cadre of “professional Russian hooligans.” French officials have limited alcohol sales and Russia is playing under threat of a ban from UEFA if its fans cause more violence. Police arrested dozens of fans before the England-Russia match June 11 and used tear gas and water cannons to suppress more violence following the game. Russian fans have also caused havoc in the stands, setting off flares and other pyrotechnics and hurling objects toward the field.