Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Sweden v Belgium
Sweden v Belgium
Italy have already secured top spot in Group E but Belgium can cement their position as runners-up with a positive result when they face Sweden in Nice on Wednesday night.
Sweden v Belgium, Wednesday 22nd June 2016, 20.00, TV3 & ITV4
The Red Devils’ 3-0 success over the Republic of Ireland was their seventh competitive win in nine and Marc Wilmots’ men answered their critics with a stylish and dominating display in Bordeaux.
After a goalless opening half, Romelu Lukaku scored the Belgians’ first goal at the tournament with a neat finish before Axel Witsel’s header on the hour mark doubled the advantage. Lukaku rounded off the rout after a quick counter as Ireland failed to force goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into a single save.
Belgium boast a wealth of individual talent and had topped the FIFA rankings within the last year, making them one of the favourites to go far in France.
However, they looked nothing like a team capable of winning the tournament in their opener against Italy in their 2-0 defeat. The Belgians lacked fluidity and a sense of unity. As Courtois put it: tactically, technically and organisationally, they came up short.
It was a different story against the Republic. The Red Devils dominated possession throughout, with Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne proving much more effective at stretching their opponent’s defence than they were against the Italians. Both finished with an assist each.
The victory will undoubtedly boost a side that had appeared lacking in confidence at the start of the tournament and a repeat performance against the Swedes shouldn’t be discounted.
Not So Super Swedes
Sweden’s encounter with Italy appeared to be heading towards a dull goalless draw before Eder won the match for the Azzurri just minutes from time.
Eric Hamren’s men had defended valiantly but the Blue-Yellow were toothless in the offensive third, and became the first side not to have mustered a single shot-on-target in their first two games of a European Championships finals since 1980.
For the second successive outing, captain and star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was quiet. Zlatan has scored six goals in 12 games for the Swedes but made little impact.
It would have taken a piece of individual brilliance for him to score, as Sweden’s lack of creativity offered him little to work with, a scenario that often saw him dropping deep in order to build an attack.
A second game without a goal for Ibrahimovic means his wait to become the first player to score in four European Championships goes on. And if the Swedes don’t show significant improvement in attack here, it is a feat he may never achieve.
One Man Band
I’ve said a few times, Sweden are the most one-manned team in the competition and across the previous 180 minutes, the Blue-Yellow have looked timid and directionless in the offensive third. With possession at a premium against Belgium, picking up a positive result looks unlikely.
Since Euro 2012, Ibrahimovic has scored in 19 of Sweden’s 23 meaningful matches, laying on seven assists, meaning he’s played a major role in 75% of the Blue-Yellows’ competitive goals across the last four years.
When Zlatan hasn’t scored or assisted, Sweden have failed to win a game in that four-year sample.
And of the eight matches he’s missed, Hamren’s men picked up just a solitary victory, against lowly Lichtenstein.
I think the 5/6 on Belgium to win is fantastic value but I’ll also have a nibble on 17/10 that the Red Devils win ‘to nil’. Their physical back-four should be capable of dealing with the limited Swedish offence despite Zlatan’s obvious match-winning qualities.
Belgium To Win (5/6)
Belgium To Win To Nil (17/10)
*Prices correct at time of publication