Sweden and Belgium go into their final group clash of Euro 2016 with question marks hovering around their qualification for knockouts. This Group E encounter will take place at the Allianz Riviera on Wednesday, June 22.
To say that Sweden disappointed their supporters with their performances so far would be an understatement. They were not expected to cruise through the group – provided that they were in a tight group – but they were not expected to find themselves in such a poor state either. Their 1-1 opening game result against Republic of Ireland was anything but a comfort, considering the poor performance of the Swedes in that match. Eventually, they were saved not by their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic but by an own goal from Ciaran Clark. This followed their disappointing 1-0 loss to Italy which came through a late goal from Eder. The Swedish side looked content on picking up a point as they sat very deep including Zlatan himself who played deeper than usual.
Sweden are currently third in the points table with one point from two games. Nothing less than a win against Belgium would keep their tournament alive. A win would take them to four points and leapfrog Belgium into automatic qualification places. Anything lesser would mean a flight back home.
For Belgium too, nothing is guaranteed yet. The Red Devils were one of the top favorites going into the tournament considering the array of attacking talent that Marc Wilmots has at disposal. But the entre expectations came crashing right on matchday one when they were given a master class by Italy in a 2-0 loss. More than the margin, it was the clinical efficiency of the Italians that stood out as the Belgians never got any toehold in the match. And just like that the vultures of doubts were circling the camp and threatening to derail their hopes. If they looked disjointed against Italy, they were nothing short of brilliant against Republic of Ireland gaining a comprehensive 3-0 victory. But they still need to thwart the Swedes and not lose to them to avoid the ignominy of missing the automatic qualification places.
Belgium sit second in the table with three points from two games and require at least a point against Sweden to confirm their position in top two. With a healthy goal difference – thanks to their romp against Republic of Ireland – the Red Devils will have one less worry on their minds ahead of this crucial encounter.
Sweden have found wins to be as rare as water in the desert. They have won only two of their recent nine matches with five draws punctuating this period. They need to be more positive and maximize the influence of Zlatan to give themselves a shot at qualification.
The win against Republic of Ireland was the third for Belgium in their last five matches and their eight in the last 11 encounters. The individual talent is never in question but this Belgian side will always be questioned for their team ethos.
Key players and team news
For Sweden, there are doubts about the availability of Mikael Lustig over his groin injury concerns but otherwise they could stick to the same from previous match. A change in system could be in the offing to add an attacking dimension to the team.
Belgium have doubts on the availability of Moussa Dembele and Eden Hazard with minor knocks but have quality replacements ready from the bench. Hazard could still feature while Marouane Fellaini could replace Dembele. Romelu Lukaku will once again be pivotal at the top of the formation.
Sweden have lost only two of their last ten matches but they had just three wins in this period. In only four of these matches, they were able to score more than one goal which speaks of their troubles up front. They also kept only three clean sheets against the lower ranked Estonia, Finland and a depleted Wales in this period.
For Belgium, only one loss in the last five matches makes good reading. They are generally high scorers and seven of their recent ten matches have ended in over 2.5 goals. In six of those ten matches, Belgium have scored more than a single goal and ended up winning all of them.
The loss to Italy looks more a blip and if Lukaku fires again, this Belgian side would be difficult to stop. Back the burly forward to score again while his team finds all three points.
Lukaku anytime goal scorer at odds of 2.3 with William Hill.