ZAGREB, CROATIA - FEBRUARY 29: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden prior to the International Friendly between Croatia and Sweden on February 29, 2012 in Zagreb, Croatia. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Sweden come into Euro 2012 as many people's dark horses, and while they have a potent attacking lineup, heavily reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but will he even bother turning up?
Prior to reaching the semifinals of Euro '92, Sweden had never even qualified for the tournament. A quarter final in 2004 is the next best outing the Swedes have had and in 2008 exited in the first round. Since then however there has been a change of manager, style and philosophy to the side, making them a little bit of an unknown quantity headed into Euro 2012.
Erik Hamren was appointed in 2009, and given the task of taking the side from a traditional and stuff 4-4-2, to something more modern. Hamren adopted the currently in vogue 4-2-3-1 formation, with his own unique twist, and brought in new, younger players such as Rasmus Elm, Ola Toivonen and Martin Olsson.
The side has now become an attacking one, almost too attacking according to some reports in the Swedish media, but it's one that has in large worked. In qualifying, the Swedes finished second behind the Netherlands, beating them 3-2 on one occasion while they comfortably dispatched the lesser sides such as Finland and San Marino 5-0. The only blot on the copybook being a 4-1 defeat against Oranje as the group began, and a 2-1 defeat against Hungary, however they did enough to come out as the second best side in all of qualifying, meaning they didn't have to go to a playoff.
As for the attacking side that got them there, there's a huge amount of talent. Martin Olsson and Mikael Lustig provide overlapping runs from fullback, Toivonen and Sebastian Larsson will be in advanced positions, providing balls for Johan Elmander and a slightly deeper than usual Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Elmander is currently recovering from a foot injury, but is expected to be fit for the start of the tournament. In his absence, Hamren brought in Rasmus Elm and moved Toivonen from the wing to the hole, behind Ibrahimovic. If Elmander isn't able to play in Sweden's opener, Hamren might opt to move his team around in this manner again, as opposed to trying to drop someone in for Elmander like-for-like.
While all this attacking is going on, an aging core could be the downfall of the side. Central defender and stalwart of the side Olof Mellberg is now 34, and holding midfielder Anders Svensson is 35, and despite having more youthful options in reserve, Hamren is expected to stick with the side who got them there in the first place.
Prior to the final group game against Netherlands, Ibrahimovic was suspended. The Swedish media ran an article showing the national side had won every game without Ibra since he made his debut, and with Ibra only 55% of their games.
The performance of Ibra will be crucial to the Swedes' progression through the tournament, and now at 30-years old, it's time to show the world that he can cut it on the international scene.
Projected Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1)
GK Andreas Isaksson, LB Martin Olsson, RB Mikael Lustig, CB Andreas Granqvist, CB Olof Mellberg, CM Kim Kallstrom, CM Anders Svensson, LW Sebastian Larsson, CF Zlatan Ibrahimovic, RW Ola Toivonen, ST Johan Elmander
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Now is the time for Ibra. Supremely talented, as we've seen for years now at club level, he's failed to turn it on as regularly for his national team. Some have suggested he has a growing frustration that the players around him aren't as technically gifted as they are at club level, but that's slowly changing under Erik Hamren. It's time for Zlatan to step up and show us he's one of the all time greats he likes to inform us he is.
Quarterfinals: Sweden face a tough task to get out of the group stages after being lumped with England, France and host nation Ukraine. I expect France to take top spot, but second place is very much up for grabs, and if Sweden can get a victory over England in Match 15, second place could be on the cards. Whether they top the group or come as runners up, the likelihood is a quarterfinal date with either Spain or Italy, and I can't see the Swedes getting past either of those.