Fors­berg, the quiet heir to Ibrahi­movic, de­liv­ers for Sweden

Fort McMurray Today - - SPORTS - STEVE DOU­GLAS

ST. PETERS­BURG, Rus­sia — Shy, diminu­tive and with­out that dis­tinc­tive pony­tail, Emil Fors­berg couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent than the larg­erthan-life Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic.

They share an abil­ity to con­jure some­thing out of noth­ing on a soccer field, though, as Fors­berg showed in lead­ing Sweden into the World Cup quar­ter­fi­nals for the first time in 24 years.

Fors­berg dropped his shoul­der to cre­ate space at the edge of the area and scored with a de­flected shot to earn the Swedes a 1-0 vic­tory over Switzer­land on Tues­day.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” Fors­berg said, “and makes me so proud.”

The 26-year-old Fors­berg ar­rived in Rus­sia shoul­der­ing much of Sweden’s creative bur­den fol­low­ing the in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment of Ibrahi­movic, who ruled the na­tional team for more than a decade and is the great­est player the coun­try ever pro­duced.

Fors­berg was quiet in the group stage but the at­tack­ing mid­fielder’s skills and slick move­ment stood out against Switzer­land in an oth­er­wise scrappy game be­tween two of Europe’s less-dec­o­rated na­tions.

“He has de­vel­oped in terms of the holis­tic ap­proach to his game,” Sweden coach Janne An­der­s­son said. “Even if he doesn’t suc­ceed in ev­ery drib­ble, in ev­ery part of his game he con­trib­utes in so many ways and he has those de­ci­sive mo­ments.”

Fors­berg didn’t get much power be­hind his shot and it was likely head­ing straight for Switzer­land goal­keeper Yann Som­mer. How­ever, it took a de­flec­tion off the foot of cen­tre back Manuel Akanji and bounced up and into the net.

Sweden be­came the fifth Euro­pean team to reach the quar­ter­fi­nals and will next play ei­ther Eng­land or Colombia on Satur­day in Sa­mara. Lim­ited but with a highly ef­fec­tive game plan, the Swedes should not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

This was an­other op­por­tu­nity spurned by the Swiss, who have reached the last 16 in four of their last five ap­pear­ances at the World Cup only to be elim­i­nated with­out scor­ing a goal. They haven’t scored in a knock­out game in soccer’s big­gest tour­na­ment in 64 years, when they last reached in the quar­ter­fi­nals at home in 1954.

They fin­ished the game with 10 men af­ter right back Michael Lang was sent off in stop­page time for a pro­fes­sional foul on Sweden sub­sti­tute Martin Ols­son. The ref­eree ini­tially awarded a penalty kick but later gave a free kick on the edge of the area af­ter a video re­view.

Switzer­land was for­tu­nate to still be in the match at that point.

Ibrahi­movic, now 36 and play­ing out his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer in the United States, would surely have put away some of the first-half chances cre­ated by his coun­try­men against a frag­ile Switzer­land de­fence which was miss­ing the sus­pended Fabian Schaer and Stephan Licht­steiner.

Striker Mar­cus Berg was the big­gest cul­prit, spurn­ing two open­ings in quick suc­ces­sion, while Al­bin Ek­dal volleyed over with the goal at his mercy.

The Swedes were lim­ited but played to the strengths that got them past Italy in the two-leg World Cup play­off and to the top of a group con­tain­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Ger­many, Mex­ico and South Korea. Their long balls for­ward caused panic and they were more bullish in their tack­ling in mid­field.

The Swiss cer­tainly weren’t play­ing like a team ranked No. 6 in the world and with only one loss in their pre­vi­ous 25 games. Their build-up play was sloppy, with the best ef­fort fall­ing to Remo Freuler with a late header that was saved by Robin Olsen.

“They have done pre­cisely what they’re very good at,” Switzer­land coach Vladimir Petkovic said, “and that might have been enough to beat us.

“When they score a goal, it is al­ways ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to crack that tough nut.”

The last time Sweden made it this far at the World Cup was in 1994, when the team reached the semi­fi­nals.

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