Andersson the understated symbol of post-Ibrahimovic Sweden
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) A merry band of about a thousand yellow-clad Sweden fans stayed after the game, singing in a stand behind the goal and ignoring repeated requests from the stadium announcer to make their way out.
Their team had just reached a World Cup quarterfinal for the first time in 24 years, and they were going to enjoy the moment.
The object of their affections was clear.
”It feels quite extraordinary and quite strange,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. ”The fact that they are staying on after the game, calling out and shouting my name, just makes you want to go out and thank them.”
So he did, emerging back out from the dressing room with captain Andreas Granqvist to applaud the block of supporters who had been the most vocal throughout the 1-0, round-of-16 win over Switzerland on Tuesday.
In 39 years as a player and then a coach, Andersson hasn’t worked outside Sweden, and many of his clubs were in the country’s lower leagues, like Alets and Laholms.
Bespectacled, thick set and with short, cropped hair, the 55-year-old Andersson has no global profile, although that might be about to change with a quarterfinal against England on Saturday.
Through his insistence on working as a team (or as a ”collective,” as he often says), Andersson has changed the national team’s philosophy. No more cult of the individual – Zlatan Ibrahimovic ruled the team for more than a decade before retiring from international play in 2016 – but instead an emphasis on the team.
”If I’m the symbol, I can live with that but this is very much about the team, not about me or any other individual,” Andersson said. ”Football is a team sport and this team really personifies that approach. We share. We work for each other on and off the pitch. I’m incredibly happy it’s paying off. Football is a game played by a team. Never forget that.”
Was that an indirect reference to Ibrahimovic, who often refers to himself as ”God” or a ”lion?”
Sweden is doing better at this World Cup than it ever did with Ibra.
Andersson’s Sweden is hard-working, well-drilled, tough to break down – and dull to watch.
”I would not call you boring,” Switzerland playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri told Swedish reporters after Tuesday’s game, ”but people at home may not like watching you.”
Sweden has three shutouts in four games despite a possession disadvantage: 29 percent against Germany, 35 percent versus Mexico and 37 percent against Switzerland. Tactics include long passes to 6-foot-4 (1.92 meter) striker Ola Toivonen and throw-ins into the penalty area with the hope of flick-ons.
”We are right on the mark everywhere,” midfielder Albin Ekdal said. ”It’s incredibly difficult to score against us.”
After the victory against Switzerland, Andersson deflected a question about whether Sweden is starting to think about winning its first World Cup. Its side of the bracket opened with the exits of Germany, Spain, Portugal and Argentina.
”If you start to lower the bar or the level of ambition, that’s not going to make for satisfaction,” he said.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80