Young generation marks new beginning against the Dutch
After a disappointing summer at Euro 2016 in France, a new look Sweden without legendary striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, host Netherlands in an opening World Cup qualifier this evening.
Ibrahimovic, Sweden's record all time top scorer, retired from International football after Euro 2016 and Tuesday night's qualifier at Friends Arena marks a fresh beginning for the national side under new coach Janne Andersson.
Andersson, who led little fancied IFK Norrköping to an unexpected Allsvenskan title last year, already enjoys an advantage over his unsuccessful predecessor Erik Hamren.
While Zlatan Ibrahimovic's retirement has removed the firepower that netted 62 times in 116 international appearances, his departure has also given an opportunity for the new coach in imposing a playing philosophy on a young squad without the large shadow cast by the legendary Swedish icon.
Andersson is also without two other big names of the past decade in goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson and midfielder Kim Källström, both of whom have also quit the national team. And the man from Halmstad told media on Monday that he had skipped the opportunity of playing a friendly last week, preferring to work with his new players on the training ground.
"Of course it is the first time that I have met the players this week and if you play a game you have three days for preparation, and then playing the game. For me it was more important to take those days and practice with the players and talk to the players about how we want to play football," the 53-year-old said at a press conference.
Experienced defender Andreas Granqvist has been given the captain's armband. The 31-year-old, who spent three seasons in the top flight of Dutch football, said playing without Ibrahimovic would give the new players responsibility.
"Without Zlatan in the team we have new players who have to take responsibility. Of course my role now is the captain and I have to speak more with the media, with more responsibility around the national team but it's the same role for me. I speak a lot on the pitch, I try to help people on the pitch, so it's quite similar."
The big defender added that this new look Sweden will "fight for each other and help each other".
Granqvist will lead Sweden out at Friends Arena against a Dutch team under pressure to perform. Failure to qualify for Euro 2016 in France was followed last week by a 2-1 defeat against Greece in a friendly. Coach Danny Blind has also seen both his assistants Dick Advocaat and Marco van Basten leave their posts.
In a tough qualification group, which also comprises France, Belarus, Bulgaria and Luxembourg, Sweden and Netherlands will be aiming not to lose their opening World Cup qualifier. The two teams have each won two, drawn two, and lost two of their previous six meetings with one another.