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We really missed Sweden at the last World Cup in 2014 and no, it wasn’t because it meant that the cameraman was unable to pan to a row of Swedish twenty-somethings in the crowd. The Panenka is glad to welcome back the only host nation to be defeated in a World Cup final as there is always something about the Sweden team that threatens to do something special. OK they’ve never won a major tournament but always seem to find themselves in the group of death or on that betting slip as you proclaim them to be this years dark horses, but hey, they may not have a realistic chance of winning it, but it is the year of the underdog after all.

How They Qualified: Sweden looked to be cruising for the group stages in France but finished Group G behind Russia and Austria after a monumental collapse. Sweden at least were granted the pleasure of defeating Scandinavian rivals Denmark in the play-offs. They went through 4-3 on aggregate after a nervy 2-2 draw in the second leg in Copenhagen. Predictably Ibrahimovic top scored for the men in yellow with 11 goals during qualification.

Tournament History: Semi-finals 1992.

Coach: Erik Hamren.

Appointed in 2009 in a part-time role while managing Rosenborg and assumed the job on a full-time basis when released from his contract by the Norwegian club the following year. He has two titles with Rosenborg and one in Denmark with AaB on his CV to go with three Swedish cups. Somehow, and I mean somehow, he survived the chop by the Swedish FA after defeat by England at Euro 2012, failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup AND blowing a four-point lead over Russia in their last four games of qualifying leading to them entering the play-offs. Beats me too. Ah just give it to Zlatan.

Nickname: Blågult (Blue and yellows)

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The Swede is such a hit in his homeland that his name coined a new word in the Swedish dictionary pertaining to doing something special or unpredictable. Try putting ‘Zlatan’ (verb) down next time you’re playing scrabble with the family.

Key Man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It’s just as well that Sweden qualified as according to the egotistical genius, it’s not really a tournament worth watching if the ponytailed forward isn’t there. That’s what he said about the 2014 World Cup when Sweden were denied qualification after a tense double header against Portugal in the play-offs. This could possibly be the last major tournament for the self confessed magician and it’s impossible for us, let alone the man himself, to write him off winning the whole competition single handedly. 62 goals in 112 Sweden caps show how he carries this team.

One To Watch: Oscar Hiljemark.

The youngster captained Sweden to victory at the 2015 Under-21 European Championship and has been joined by a number of graduates from that campaign in Hamren’s full squad. The 23-year-old midfielder moved to Palermo in the summer after two years at PSV. He demonstrated his finishing prowess with two goals against Milan in Serie A this season too.

Fixtures:

June 13, 12 p.m. vs. Ireland

June 17, 9 a.m. vs. Italy

June 22, 3 p.m. vs. Belgium

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Kasimpasa), Robin Olsen (København), Patrik Carlgren (AIK).

Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (København), Erik Johansson (København), Pontus Jansson (Torino), Victor Lindelof (Benfica) Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Martin Olsson (Norwich).

Midfielders: Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiakos), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moskva), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor), Oscar Lewicki (Malmo), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Kim Källström (Grasshoppers).

Forwards: Marcus Berg (Panathinaikos), John Guidetti (Celta), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris St Germain), Emir Kujovic (Norrköping).