At times during this World Cup qualification campaign, it has seemed Sweden’s approach has resembled that of their famed skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic — nonchalant and one-paced.
So there’s nothing better than a barb from the veteran wind-up merchant, Giovanni Trapattoni, to stir the Swedes ahead of their visit to Dublin a week today. Because, while us Irish marvel at Trap’s description of the opposition defence as a “little slow”, it merely succeeds in further motivating the recipients to abseil in and rub the septuagenarian’s nose in the Aviva Stadium turf.
Tobias Hysen has been immersed in the game long enough not to swallow such bait, albeit a nibble is fine to nourish on for a starter at least.
“I would have to disagree with that opinion,” straight-batted the striker, who has scored eight times in 29 outings for his country.
“With Trapattoni’s experience, he’d only say that if he felt there was a weakness. But I know, even with Ireland attacking us as the home team, we’ve the defenders to stand firm and make things difficult for them.”
Raised within a family that entailed his father, Glenn, relocating from Sweden to Holland, Italy, England and back again to play at the highest level, the current Sweden squad member has known nothing but football and the myriad of characters that inhabit the industry.
At 31, this crusade towards Brazil will be his last chance at reaching the World Cup. Ditto for talisman and skipper Ibrahimovic, along with veteran midfielder Anders Svensson.
Level with Ireland and Austria on 11 points in the hunt for second place, two games each over the next fortnight will define which of the trio can approach the last two matches leaving the other pair with vehicle smoke in their faces.
Hysen admits another insipid Sweden display in Dublin like those against Ireland at home (0-0) and Austria away (1-2) from the team that had held leaders Germany to a 4-4 draw would onset the abyss.
“If Ireland or Sweden loses this game, I’d find it hard to see a way back into qualification for them,” said the IFK Gothenburg forward.
“There might be hope if there was one team to catch, but chasing two makes it very difficult. I started the qualifier against Ireland in Stockholm and our performance simply wasn’t good enough.”
Having spent a season in England with Sunderland, Hysen wasn’t surprised by the stellar display Ireland produced at the Friends Arena in March. For the watching public, though, the player was glad they witnessed first-hand the challenge Sweden face to qualify from Group C.
“The appreciation level from the Swedish fans towards the Irish team is very low,” he said.
“They think Ireland choose their players from the League of Ireland when, in fact, they’ve a squad packed with Premier League players. Even the Swedish league is way behind the English Premier League, as was proved by Malmo’s heavy defeat to Swansea recently in the Europa League.
“Unless a Swedish person is big into football, they wouldn’t even know who Ciarán Clark is. He’s been a regular at Aston Villa for two years. The belief in the Sweden team amongst fans is only so, so. People view the game in Dublin as a decider, meaning victory would get the nation back on track and fully supporting our bid to qualify.
“We’re still pretty confident of reaching the play-offs. Our squad doesn’t have the six or seven stars from the 2006 World Cup but we’ve players capable of getting results when needed.”
Any team with Ibrahimovic to call upon carries a level of artillery only the cream of European football can boast. Hysen and Johan Elmander will battle to partner the Paris Saint-Germain maestro in attack for a match the captain views as another stepping stone to attaining personal and team milestones.
“Zlatan has scored five goals in our last two internationals to bring his tally to 44 goals. He has said himself the all-time record  is something he wants and, based on current form, he’ll achieve it.
“Like the rest of us, he was disappointed to only draw at home to Ireland. We didn’t even work the goalkeeper that night, mostly because Ireland’s way of shutting the opposition stopped us from playing our normal fast, passing style.
“As captain, Zlatan doesn’t have to scream or shout to be a major influence on our squad. I’ve never seen him have a real go at his team-mates on the pitch or in the dressing room. It just didn’t happen for us that night.”
Branding this return fixture a revenge mission would be stretching it, yet the enormity of the outcome is abundantly clear for both nations as Rio next June brightens on the horizon.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
More in this section