Sweden vs. Argentina: Unleash the Zlatan

Boris Streubel

The last two times Zlatan Ibrahimovic has worn a Sweden shirt, he's scored the goal of the year in 2012 and helped his country to a thrilling 4-4 comeback draw against Germany. What does he have in store for Lionel Messi and Argentina?

Most international friendlies are pointless exercises. Some have one purpose, which is to make both federations a lot of money. Some exist to prepare the teams for upcoming competitive fixtures, which is generally acceptable. Wednesday's match between Sweden and Argentina is a completely different animal, the best kind of international friendly. It's the kind of international friendly that just exists to be outrageously fun.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi will take the same pitch on Wednesday. It's on at the same time as England-Brazil and Netherlands-Italy, but this is an occurrence that should probably convince you to choose this game over other games.

If you watch football for reasons other than 'seeing cool things happen', you might have some interest in this game as well. Both managers will probably take this game seriously, as they prepare for March's competitive fixtures.

Who's trying to win a place?

Argentina's starting XI seems pretty set in stone, especially given their current form. In their last two matches -- big wins over Chile and Uruguay -- Alejandro Sabella has gone with the exact same midfield and attacking personnel. Now that Fernando Gago has moved to Velez Sarsfield, where he should be an automatic first choice player, he's probably not going to lose his place in the team. Ezequiel Lavezzi is constantly challenging for a first team place, but he'll probably remain an impact sub for the time being. Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay look to have the central defense positions locked up, but Fabricio Coloccini's recall could shake things up.

Sweden are still far away from finding their best XI, though they seem to be committed to playing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic behind Johan Elmander. Kim Kallstrom and Rasmus Elm continue to fight for one starting place in midfield, while the left midfield spot is wide open. Both Elm and Kallstrom have gotten shots at more advanced roles, along with Samuel Holmen and Alexander Kačaniklić. Ola Toivonen, who has gotten a few shots there, is not in this squad, presenting a big opportunity for the others to lock down that spot. Three back line places are set in stone, with Behrang Safari and Martin Olsson fighting for the starting left back spot.

Any tactical experimentation?

'Tactical experimentation' was Alejandro Sabella's middle name for about a year. Now that he's found his team's best personnel and formation, he should probably stick to it. Messi's been brilliant in the hole behind Gonzalo Higuain after years of underachieving in an Argentina shirt. It's not broke, so Sabella shouldn't fix it.

Sweden, on the other hand, could do with a bit of tinkering. Ibrahimovic creating under Elmander seems to work, but he still doesn't have the right pieces in place elsewhere. Maybe it's time to give Sebastian Larsson a run on the left? A true right winger a run on the right? The 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2 formation probably isn't going to change, but the way the personnel operates in it might.

What are the managers looking for?

Sabella's simply looking for the machine to get a little bit more finely tuned. It would probably take a truly disastrous performance for him to alter things significantly for Argentina's next competitive match. He'll probably give run-outs to some of the guys who he thinks could help his team in the future as key backups (Gino Peruzzi, Fabián Rinaudo) or impact subs (Nico Gaitan, Ever Banega), but mostly he'll be looking for his first choice team to build a bit more chemistry.

Erik Hamrén is less sure about his best team going forward, and will be looking for a few individuals to step up and make his selection decisions a lot easier. He'll be hoping that one of each of his central midfielders, left backs and left midfield players puts in an outstanding performance and picks themselves for the competitive matches in March. Sweden has more talent than group-mates Ireland and looks like a good bet to clinch a playoff spot in UEFA qualifying, but they're nowhere close to being a finished product at this point.

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