World Cup 2006 Preview – Sweden

Outright Odds: 50/1
Group B Winners: 9/4

Sweden battled their way through an awkward qualifying group which included Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Iceland and qualified as one of the two best placed runners-up. The Swedes lost narrowly 1-0 to Croatia both home and away but eight wins out of eight against the rest of their opponents saw them level on points.

The Swedes boast excellent organisation at the back and their defence shipped just four goals in 10 qualifying matches. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson was a revelation in qualifying, arguably making one mistake against Iceland in a match Sweden won comfortably. The Rennes stopper is a worthy replacement for the veteran Thomas Ravelli who won over 100 caps for his country.

Sweden also have good attacking options to compliment a resolute back line. The current darling of Swedish football, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, blasted in eight goals in 10 qualifying games while his creativity allowed the marauding Fredrik Ljungberg to score seven goals from midfield.

Ibrahimovic came of age at Euro 2004 with a stunning back-flick goal against Italy which lead to Juventus buying him for approximately £11 million the following August. He proved his mettle for scoring when it matters the most with an injury-time winner away at Hungary in a cruch-qualifier.

Veteran striker Henrik Larsson, a member of the Sweden squad who finished third in the 1994 finals, also adds an extra option in attack as he seeks one final hurrah before retiring from the game.

Despite thrashing their opponents in qualifying, rattling in 27 goals, 13 of which came against poor Malta, the defeats against Croatia raise question marks over whether they can repeat their glorious appearances of the past.

This is Sweden’s eleventh appearance at the World Cup finals. They hosted the tournament in 1958 and scored after four minutes against Brazil in the final. However, a 17-year-old Pele scuppered their plans and the Brazilians ran out 5-2 winners. They have also reached the semi-finals in 1950 and 1994 so there is a lot to live up to.

The fans will expect them to improve on a frustrating appearance in the 2002 finals when they topped the first round group ahead of both England and Argentina but lost in the second round after extra-time against surprise package Senegal.

Recommended Bet:
It will be a tight battle between Sweden and England to win Group B, with both sides likely to decide who tops the group when they meet in the final game. Past meetings have been close and they drew 1-1 when they played in Group F’s opening fixture four years ago. A repeat performance is the recommended bet.

Sweden vs England draw @ 11/5
Sweden vs England 1-1 correct score @ 5/1

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