Game in a sentence
France are all build-up and no finish against a very disciplined Swedish defense, while Ibra finally finds his moment of beauty.
- France put out their preferred formation in 4-2-3-1, but this time opted for Yann M’Vila in place of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa in for the ruthless Jeremy Menez. It’s clear Laurent Blanc wanted to rest some of his key midfielders ahead of the quarters against a poor Sweden side. Considering the quarterfinal options in Spain and Italy, winning the group was likely not a do-or-die imperative.
- Sweden meanwhile made two changes from the team that couldn’t hold off England; Toivonen started up front in the 4-4-1-1 ahead of Ibra in place of the just-returned-from-injury Johan Elmander, and Emir Barjami replaced Rasmus Elm (virus) on the left midfield.
- France were dominant as to be expected, particularly form the usual suspects in the front four: Ribery, Nasri, Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa. But for all their cut there was a paucity of thrust. France were obsessed with playing the million dollar through ball to Benzema in particular, but Sweden were well-positioned in defense and had 8 interceptions in their own half by half time. Outside of a Ribery shot on the left side that Isaksson stopped in the first ten minutes, France were mostly restricted to probing shots from outside the area.
- Moreover France were lackadaisical in defense; Toivonen managed a free header in the first three minutes, and then hit the post in the 10th minute. He was far forward enough to cause France significant problems on the break.
- By midway through the second half, France had attempted an astonishing 139 passes in the attacking third, 101 successful, compared to Sweden’s 59 (42 successful). But despite their hard work, they were unable to cut through the middle, and didn’t look much troubled despite being hemmed in their half. A very credible defensive display missing in their first two games.
- A lot of the tactical chatter surrounded Del Bosque’s decision to go with Cesc Fabregas in the first Spain game as a “false 9″, but Benzema was a false 9. But again, this was a failure of the wingers to connect more than anything else. Part of the issue was the lack of provenance from his wingers, particularly Ben Arfa, who played only square passes near the centre circle.
- France’s inability to find a way around the considerable Swedish defense marshaled by Olof Mellberg was punished with an esquisite goal from—who else?—Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in the 54th minute. In a very similar position to Mario Balotelli when he scored Italy’s second against Ireland, Ibra smashed the ball from a great cross on the left from super halftime sub Wilhelmsson, with his back to the goal. Marvelous.
- Sweden were excellent in handling the French attack which intensified in the last ten minutes, and were rewarded again in the 90th minute when Larsson, who had a great game, scored a thunderous goal when Wilhelmsson’s shot came back off the upright. Sweden were flying.
- A great defensive performance from Sweden begs the question: where was this team against Ukraine and England? Of France’s 24 shots, only two were from inside the 18 yard box and on target. Seven were blocked, and the majority of the rest came from outside the area. France didn’t find a way through Sweden who had 13 interceptions (all but one in their own half), and 19 successful tackles.
- The big question for France against Spain in the Saturday quarterfinal: where are the goals going to come from when it counts?
1. Sebastian Larsson
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
3. Olof Mellberg