Saturday, June 8, 2013

Typically, Sweden was subject of little news – never a favourite, but never an outsider either, it was not surprising the Swedes reached once again the finals and were expected to play well, as they ever did. A little slump was detected in their case, though – perhaps not a crisis as such, but some shortness of new talent. To speak of crisis was ridiculous anyway – Sweden depended on collective performance and never had big pool of extraordinary players. Typically, a Swedish squad was a mixture of few foreign-based stars and reliable little known home-based players, well blended team with high spirit and determination. Sweden was always to be reckoned with, for it was not a team known for underperformance – if anything, it played better than expected, making difficult life for any opponent.

Since Sweden was always kind of forgotten before the finals, her team was puzzling mystery for the opponents, further making difficulties. As for the Swedes, they had modest expectations – they only wanted to play well. And usually did. There was no hysteria at home – the team was able to work in relaxed atmosphere.
Georg 'Aby' Ericson was perhaps the coach representing the whole Swedish case best: he was nearly 70-years old, if not the oldest, certainly among the oldest coaches at 1978 World Cup. He was coaching Sweden since 1971. It was his second world cup finals at the helm of the national team and back in 1874 his team did very well. At home, nobody thought of replacing him. And there was no reason for that either, for Ericson, contrary to many aging coaches, adapted to the demands of total football effortlessly and as early as 1973. His selections quietly changed, but remained solid – and the 1978 vintage was typical blend of foreign and domestic, youth and experience:
1    GK  Ronnie Hellström                 21 February 1949 (aged 29)         1. FC Kaiserslautern
2    DF   Hasse Borg                         4 August 1953 (aged 24)               Eintracht Braunschweig
3    DF   Roy Andersson                   2 August 1949 (aged 28)               Malmö FF
4    DF   Björn Nordqvist                  6 October 1942 (aged 35)             IFK Göteborg
5    DF   Ingemar Erlandsson             16 November 1957 (aged 20)        Malmö FF
6    MF  Staffan Tapper                     10 July 1948 (aged 29)                  Malmö FF
7    MF  Anders Linderoth                 21 March 1950 (aged 28)              Olympique de Marseille
8    MF  Bo Larsson                          5 May 1944 (aged 34)                   Malmö FF
9    MF  Lennart Larsson                   9 July 1953 (aged 24)                    FC Schalke 04
10  FW  Thomas Sjöberg                  6 July 1952 (aged 25)                     Malmö FF
11  FW  Benny Wendt                       4 November 1950 (aged 27)          1. FC Kaiserslautern
12  GK  Göran Hagberg                     8 November 1947 (aged 30)          Östers IF
13  DF   Magnus Andersson               23 April 1958 (aged 20)                 Malmö FF
14  MF  Ronald Åhman                      31 January 1957 (aged 21)             Örebro SK
15  FW  Torbjörn Nilsson                   9 July 1954 (aged 23)                     IFK Göteborg
16  FW  Conny Torstensson               28 August 1949 (aged 28)               FC Zürich
17  GK  Jan Möller                             17 September 1953 (aged 24)        Malmö FF
18  MF  Olle Nordin                           23 November 1949 (aged 28)        IFK Göteborg
19  DF   Kent Karlsson                       25 November 1945 (aged 32)        IFK Eskilstuna
20  DF   Roland Andersson                 28 March 1950 (aged 28)              Malmö FF
21  FW  Sanny Åslund                         29 August 1952 (aged 25)             AIK Fotboll
22  FW  Ralf Edström                          7 October 1952 (aged 25)             IFK Göteborg
Seven survivors from the 1974 squad. Three players – Nordqvist, Hellstrom, and Bo Larsson – were going to their third World Cup. Bjorn Nordqvist was the most capped player in the world – his final tally was 115 games played for Sweden, astonishing number today, considering how fewer matches national teams used to play before 1990. Sweden had more foreign based players than all teams reviewed so far – the combined number of 4 (Tunisia – 2, Argentina – 1, and Poland – 1) vs 6 Swedes playing abroad. Youngsters were liberally included as well, but it was carefully made final selection – if one compares the slightly earlier photo with the final squad, few names are different. A slight slump was detectable, as I already mentioned: four years ago, Sweden had a bunch of young rapidly rising talent, spoken of around Europe: Ralf Edstorm, Sandberg, and Conny Torstensson. In 1978 there was only one player – Anders Linderoth – and he was already 28 years old. Meantime the great trio was in decline – Torstensson moved from Bayern to Switzerland in 1977; Edstrom – from PSV Eindhoven back to Sweden, and Sandberg was not even in the team. And the veterans were dangerously old by now: Nordqvist – 35, Bo Larsson – 33, Kent Karlsson – 32 and permanently benched. And Staffan Tapper, already 29, was no longer starter. Veterans, fading stars, and hardly any really bright young talent – Sweden appeared a bit weaker than before, but not to be dismissed. In the iron Group 3, the Swedes were likelier candidate for advancing - much likelier than Austria and capable to elbow themselves above Spain. Depending on luck, it was possible for the Swedes even to finish at the top of the group.