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New-look Sweden faces World Cup test

Sweden will rely on new and untested players as it enters a crucial test in its quest to reach the 2018 World Cup.

Give new Sweden manager Janne Andersson credit — he is living up to his promise of injecting new life into the Swedish national soccer team.
Despite predictions from the media of a dim future in the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era, Andersson has found a way to move on, mostly by turning to a new group of players, none of whom play for a major-market team.
Sweden opened play in qualifying Group A for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands and on October 7 and 10 returns to the field for tilts with Luxembourg away and Bulgaria at home. Both are must-wins for Sweden if it is to have any chance of advancing from a group that also features France and Belarus.
"We are very positive about our chances. These are games in which we should have a good chance of winning,” Andersson said at a press conference Oct. 4. "Of course we must be at our best. In our first match (against Holland) we were very, very strong on defense but we have to do better in scoring. This will be our task.”
Robin Olsen, who has absolutely shined in net for FC Copenhagen in both the Danish League and the Champions League, will again don the No. 1 shirt against both Luxembourg and Bulgaria. Olsen is rapidly becoming a “name” in European football circles and is already spawning transfer rumors to the likes of Barcelona, even though the winter transfer does not open for three months. After Olsen, however, Sweden will rely on a group of bit players to advance.
Team captain and central defender Andreas Granqvist is a regular at Krasnodar in the Russian Premier League, a club (and league) that is hardly a household name in world soccer circles. Granqvist is a defensive rock and a proven on-field leader. After him, the back line gets murky. Celtic FC back Michael Lustig is a standout in the Scottish Premier League, where the Glasgow club stands above the rest of the pack. In the Champions League against top-notch international talent, however, Lustig and the Celtic defense has been susceptible, surrendering 10 goals in just two group stage matches. Ludwig Augustinsson is having a strong season at Copenhagen and is likely to move to a bigger club in the winter. He offers Andersson a strong presence on the right side. The fourth spot is up for grabs among a group that includes a pair of Bologna FC defenders in Emil Krath and Filip Helander, Leeds defender Pontus Jansson, Norwich defender Martin Olsson and Benfica central defender Victor Lindelöf. Bologna is mired near the bottom of the Italian Serie A, while Norwich and Leeds play in the Championship, the second rung of English football.
Andersson has injected youth and some risk-taking in midfield as he has turned to more players toiling for small, last-place or lower-rung clubs. Palermo midfielder Oscar Hiljemark, Jimmy Durmaz of Toulosse, Emil Forsberg from DB Leipzig and Hamburg’s Albin Ekdal, just back from injury, are the likely starters. The bench features Oscar Wendt of Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he is currently out of favor and is a substitute, Alexander Fransson, who has seen little more than spot time for Basel in Switzerland, Marcus Rohden, who is a starter for last-place Crotone in the Serie A but had all sorts of problems against the Netherlands, and surprise choice Victor Claesson of Elfsborg in the Allsvenskan.
Up front, stalwart Marcus Berg, who scored against the Dutch, is a shoo-in to start. Berg plays for Panathinaikos in Greece, where he has scored four goals in seven matches. John Guidetti, who continues to impress with his potential but disappoint with his play, could join Berg up front. Guidetti has been in and out of the lineup at La Liga side Celta Vigo. Andersson tabbed Ola Toivonen for a return to the Blue and Yellow after he impressed with Ligue 1 side Toulosse. Cristoffer Nyman is the fourth forward. A regular with Eintracht Braunschweig in the German Second Division, Nyman was another surprise selection.
"It would be nice if we could win both of these matches,” Andersson said. "These are important matches and we need as many points as possible if we want to advance.”
Thirteen teams from Europe advance to the finals in Russia. There are nine six-teams groups. The group winners automatically advance while the eight best second-place teams advance to a home-and-home playoff series. The four playoff winners then advance.


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