World Cup Group F: Sweden can't build wall; must attack Mexico to progress
Mexico has been arguably the most pleasant surprise at the 2018 FIFA World Cup so far, registering two wins in two, toppling Germany in the process. Juan Carlos Osorio’s men have looked mightily impressive and are just one point away from clinching a spot in the last sixteen, but they won’t have an easy challenge ahead of them when taking on Sweden.
The Swedes were extremely unlucky to lose late to Germany, but they did defeat South Korea in the tournament opener, so they are no pushover by any means. The Scandinavian side have been creating a buzz ever since the World Cup Qualifiers, when they beat the Netherlands and later defeated Italy in the play-off round. Their campaign in the World Cup has reaffirmed the belief that they are an extremely tough side to defeat. Will they pull off another upset against one of the top teams in the current tournament?
The permutations ahead of this game are quite clear. Mexico would win Group F with a win or a draw, and even a defeat would be enough to qualify based on their goal differential. Meanwhile, Sweden needs to better Germany’s result; either getting more points or winning by a bigger goal-margin would be enough. A draw or a defeat would tie their chances to what Die Mannschaft can do against South Korea.
The match will be played at Ekaterinburg Arena, a venue with capacity for 33,061 fans. This will be the final game at that venue.
FIFA Ranking: 15th
As stated above, Mexico have been amongst the best teams in the competition, thanks to their 100% record. After a dominant win over Germany with the from Hirving Lozano, El Tri also defeated South Korea, with strikes from Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez. There is a small chance that Mexico can still get eliminated if they get thumped by Sweden, but that seems rather unlikely to say the least. If they can repeat what they have done thus far, the South Americans should be fine.
Mexico will have a full-strength squad ahead of this game, although it is quite hard to predict a starting XI considering that Osorio tends to swap lineups from game-to-game without batting an eyelid. His rotational system has gotten fame all over the world, but there are a few things that should not change.
First, expect Mexico to field a 4-2-3-1 system. Guillermo Ochoa should feature between the posts, Hector Moreno will be the rock in defence, and the duo of Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado should handle the midfield duties. Upfront, the dazzling trio of Hirving Lozano, Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela will undoubtedly terrorise the opposing defence. All of them have already scored in the competition.
Will this be enough to push Mexico to the Round of 16? At the very least, they have shown enough to make fans feel excited about this game.
FIFA Ranking: 24th
Sweden needs to shake off what happened in the game against Germany; and they need to do it quickly, because they sit in a complicated spot if they want to reach the knockout phase. They defeated South Korea in the opener thanks to a penalty from Andreas Granqvist and jumped ahead against Germany after an excellent goal from Ola Toivonen. However, second-half strikes from Marco Reus and Toni Kroos (in stoppage time) lifted Die Mannschaft to a narrow win. With that result, Sweden have three points and must win against Mexico to have a realistic chance to advance into the last sixteen.
The Scandinavians will have a full-strength squad ahead of this game, but unlike their Mexican counterpart, it will be easy to predict how Sweden will line up. Manager Janne Andersson is not going to change his usual 4-4-2 tactic, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the Swedes playing with the same starting XI they fielded against Germany in their last outing.
Names such as Robin Olsen, Victor Lindelof, Granqvist, Emil Forsberg and Sebastian Larsson should carry the team, while the attacking duo of Marcus Berg and the aforementioned Toivonen should handle the duties up front. Toivonen is certainly a player to watch, and when he's fully fit and brimming with confidence, he'll scare any defence in football.
Only time will tell whether they have enough in them to topple Mexico. But one thing is certain. Sweden won’t go down without a fight.
This is going to be a close game, no doubt about it. Mexico certainly looks like the better side on paper, and based on what they have shown in the first two games, but Sweden are not a team to take for granted. We all saw how hard they fought against Germany, right until the bitter end.
Mexico will probably dominate possession, but Sweden will make things tough for them. Expect this one to end in a high-scoring draw.