World Cup Round of 16: Sweden and Switzerland battle for the title of most underrated
The penultimate round of 16 game will witness Sweden lock horns with Switzerland in the 67,000 capacity Saint Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
This will be the two nations 29th meeting, but it's their first in a major tournament. Blagult and Die Nati last played 16 years ago in a friendly. Their most recent competitive match was a goalless draw during qualification for Euro 1996.
Sweden started this World Cup with a 1-0 victory over South Korea, courtesy of Andreas Granqvist's penalty. The win set them up nicely to face a Germany side which was left shell-shocked by Mexico. The Swedes looked to have successfully tamed Die Mannschaft; however, Toni Kroos' stoppage-time free kick broke hearts. Blagult recovered quickly, delivering their finest performance so far against Mexico. A captivating 3-0 triumph ensured they topped Group F.
Switzerland faced a monumental task in their opening game against Brazil. They soon proved that occupying sixth on the world rankings is fully justified. The Swiss not only kept Neymar and Co at bay, they equalised to claim a crucial point. Their spirits were then raised further by overcoming Serbia in one of the competition's most politically driven, yet best to watch, encounters so far. Rounding off the group with a draw against already-eliminated Costa Rica meant Die Nati took the second place.
Group F Winners
Nobody, including the Swedes themselves, believed it possible to top the group before play commenced. Particularly one which featured the defending champions. However, Germany struggled enormously.
Sweden manager Janne Andersson prefers the traditional 4-4-2 system. Granqvist has been instrumental in the heart of defence. Sitting in front, Albin Ekdal is a competent protector. Creativity is offered by both Emil Forsberg and Viktor Claesson. Up top, Ola Toivonen often drops deep to supply target-man Marcus Berg.
Sebastian Larsson was forced off the pitch due to injury in the last game. It's likely Gustav Svensson will deputise in midfield against Switzerland.
That is the only change expected in Blagult's starting eleven. Andersson must warn Ekdal, Claesson and Mikael Lustig to take extra care as all three players are just a caution away from suspension.
Group E Runners-up
The Swiss were tipped to go through as group runners-up prior to play starting. They got the job done, performing at standard anticipated.
Switzerland's only weakness lies in attack. They rely heavily on their midfielders to make everything happen.
Vladimir Petkovic deploys a 4-2-3-1 system. Valon Behrami and Granit Xhaka sit deep in midfield ahead of promising young centre-back Manuel Akanji. Xherdan Shaqiri is entrusted with the creative as well as goal-scoring responsibility.
Die Nati will be forced into two changes against Sweden. Fabian Schar and experienced right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner are both suspended. Michael Lang and Johan Djourou are the likely replacements. Meanwhile, Steven Zuber is a doubt through illness. Concerning possible suspensions, Denis Zakaria, Behrami and Shaqiri are all just a booking away.
This could prove one of the last 16 stage's most evenly contested, intriguing games. Both sides have similar strengths and weaknesses. It's a 50/50 contest.
Switzerland may have a slight edge in terms of squad depth. Yet they conceded in every group game. Missing key defenders will hit the Swiss hard, leaving holes to exploit.
Sweden are lethal enough to take full advantage.