Sweden coach Erik Hamren wants his team to play an attack-minded,possession-based and eye-pleasing style of football. At the European Championship,though,he’s more than willing to sacrifice style for results.
Hamren has brought a different philosophy to Sweden since taking over the national team two years ago,replacing an often stodgy,defensive-minded 4-4-2 system with a more free-flowing,passing-based approach. That worked just fine in his first qualifying campaign,where Sweden averaged more than three goals per game — a feat matched only by Spain,the Netherlands and Germany.
But going up against countries like England and France in Group D at Euro 2012,Hamren acknowledges that Sweden may have to switch its mindset.
“I wish I could say that things will look the same at the Euros (as in qualifying),” Hamren told The Associated Press. “But we have to be realistic and see that we’re now playing the very best teams in Europe,which makes it tougher on a small country like Sweden.
“We’ll try to win,and we’ll try to do it with as positive and attack-minded play as possible. But it will depend on how strong our opponents are.”
The 54-year-old Hamren,who had a very modest playing career but won league titles in both Norway and Denmark as a coach,was a little-known name outside Scandinavia when he took over Sweden from longtime incumbent Lars Lagerback following its failure to reach the 2010 World Cup. Lagerback had molded Sweden into a team that was very hard to defeat _ guiding it to the second round at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and Euro 2004 _ but also into a squad that was very inflexible in its formation and often very predictable.
Hamren changed all that,experimenting with 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 setups centered around Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. That has given more freedom to creative midfielders like Kim Kallstrom and Rasmus Elm,but also puts more emphasis on individual skill and slick passing than the hardworking,physical approach championed by Lagerback.
“Every coach has a choice: How do I want to win?” Hamren said. “And I would like to see attack-minded football,where we create a lot of chances and a lot of goals.”
Sweden proved quite adept at the new approach when playing teams like Hungary,Moldova and Finland in qualifying but was given a hard lesson by the Netherlands that it might be better to play defensively sometimes.
In Sweden’s third qualifier,Hamren tried to take on the Dutch at their own game in their own stadium _ and endured a 4-1 drubbing. The Swedes rebounded to beat the then already qualified Dutch 3-2 at home in their last qualifier to clinch the best runner-up spot,but Hamren is likely to take a more cautious approach in Ukraine.
“England and France are much bigger football nations than us,and they have more individually skilled players,” Hamren said. “That’s just the way it is. For us to beat them,we have to be better at other things. We have to play really,really well as a team.”
With Sweden having missed the 2010 World Cup _ its first qualifying failure since the 1998 World Cup — this will be the first major tournament for both Hamren and a lot of his players. But Swedish football federation President Karl-Erik Nilsson — who is also new in the job — is still optimistic about the team’s chances.
With the final set to be played on July 1,Nilsson said on the federation website that “I’ve booked our trip home for July 2.”
He added that Sweden will likely get an edge from playing all three group games in the same stadium in Kiev,rather than traveling around the country like their opponents.
“It’s a great advantage to play all your games in the same place,and to live close to the stadium,” Nilsson said. “This is a group of possibilities,even though our opponents are very tough.”
Hamren was not quite as brash,saying England and France are favorites to advance from the group.
“But I’m a dreamer,” he said. “If we do advance from the group,we won’t be satisfied with that. Then we’ll start dreaming about medals.”
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