Hamren says Sweden headed in right direction

While Sweden is headed for an early exit at the European

Championship, coach Erik Hamren is convinced the team is going

places in the future.

Hamren said Saturday that Sweden was done in by an inability to

perform well in the decisive moments of its losses to Ukraine and

England, wasting second-half leads in both matches. But after

criticizing his team’s lack of courage following the Ukraine game,

Hamren said the performance against England showed that the team is

”heading in the right direction.”

”I think there’s hope for Swedish football,” Hamren said.

”Even though it might take a while before we play the way I want

us to.”

Sweden entered the tournament with high hopes of showing off an

attractive and free-flowing style of football that Hamren has tried

to bring to a team that has traditionally been more known for solid

defensive tactics and physical play.

But the Swedes imploded completely in the first half against

Ukraine before taking the lead early in the second, and two

defensive lapses then allowed Andriy Shevchenko to score two

headers for the win. Against England, it was Sweden’s turn to go

from 1-0 down to 2-1 up in the second half – only to allow two

quick goals again for a 3-2 loss.

”We’ve conceded five goals in two games, and that’s obviously

not good,” Hamren said. ”In those types of key moments that

decide these types of games, we have a lot to work on, both

individually and as a team.”

Hamren said Sweden hasn’t had much luck in the tournament – both

when it comes to the goals it conceded and the chances it missed –

but that ”you can’t just blame that.”

”The really good teams create their own luck through skill,”

he said. ”And we’re not quite there yet.”

As always, Sweden pinned much of its hopes on captain Zlatan

Ibrahimovic, the towering AC Milan striker who is the team’s only

true star. But while Ibrahimovic performed well in both games and

gave Sweden the lead against Ukraine, it was some of his teammates

that came up short.

That left Hamren facing questions about whether Sweden actually

has enough individual skill to play a possession-based and

attack-minded style of football.

”In a national team you only have the players that are

available in the country. That means you work with what you’ve

got,” Hamren said. ”We have something exciting in the works. We

have young players coming up who are used to playing in a way that

may not be traditionally Swedish.”

Sweden still has a game to play against France in Kiev with

little at stake but pride. But Ibrahimovic said the team still

wants to make a statement for the future.

”We want to finish this in the best possible way and get some

points,” Ibrahimovic said. ”Then it’s vacation and after that

we’ll start from scratch.”

Hamren said he hopes to stay on as coach for qualifying for the

2014 World Cup – even though he almost felt like quitting

immediately after the Ukraine loss because of his disappointment in

the team’s performance.

”I felt like, ‘Let’s just forget about this. I can do other

things in life that are more rewarding.’ But then I met the players

the next day and that all passed,” Hamren said. ”I didn’t feel

that way tonight. … I feel quite strong today, because now we can

work further to become the team I want us to be.”