Two of the smaller European sides, Sweden and Switzerland, clash swords in the penultimate World Cup last 16 fixture at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

It might not exactly be the most glamorous of the last sixteen ties but it will mean everything to both countries as they bid to build on strong starts to the tournament.

While people may not be talking about them as possible dark-horses, the Swedes have a growing list of scalps to their name and their journey to the World Cup knockout stage has very much been via a difficult route.

Their qualifying group was a tough one with France and the Netherlands for company but they managed to see off the Dutch to make the play-offs.

Again they got the toughest possible draw with a tie against Italy and again they eliminated one of the true giants of European football with a 1-0 aggregate win.

They were probably due some luck by the time the World Cup draw came around but again they got none with defending champions Germany and a Mexico side that hadn’t been eliminated in the group stage since 1978 for company.

Sweden’s impressive 3-0 win over Mexico in their final group game saw them top that group against all the odds but they still don’t seem to be receiving the credit they probably deserve.

They look organised in defence with two clean sheets in the group phase and Sweden could easily have come out of that group with two wins and a draw were it not for a silly tackle and last minute Kroos free-kick in the Germany game.

Meanwhile Switzerland have generally found success in recent years thanks to their defensive qualities but they did concede in all their group fixtures.

Sweden will certainly take encouragement from Costa Rica managing to score twice against them with the Central Americans looking very poor in the final third in their other two matches, firing blanks against Brazil and Serbia.

Besides, Switzerland struggled to cope with Aleksandar Mitrovic against Serbia and Sweden’s Marcus Berg carries a similar kind of threat so the Scandinavians could have some joy playing direct, particularly with the Swiss without defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schär through suspension.

Those could be key absentees, particularly Lichtsteiner who is a real leader at the back for them with over 100 caps to his name and his recent move to Arsenal is testament to the fact he still has quality even at the age of 34.

One wonder if this is the point where Switzerland’s luck might just run out. They were fortunate to sneak past Northern Ireland in the play-offs with a very controversial refereeing call settling the tie.

They were on the ropes at times against Serbia in their second group game with only VAR denying the Serbs a second goal in a game the Swiss came back to win late on.

Meanwhile Sweden come into this game with real belief having seen off an impressive looking Mexico side so comfortably but on the other side the Swiss can be a threat on the break, particularly with Xherdan Shaqiri who seems to perform better for country than club.


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Friday, September 21, 2018
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