Kiev: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is hoping Sweden's new attacking philosophy can take Ukraine and anyone watching by surprise on Monday. The opener against the co-host will be Sweden's first tournament game under coach Erik Hamren, who has adopted a more free-flowing style of play compared to the more defensive-minded tactics of the past.
"This is not the traditional Swedish way of playing," Ibrahimovic said on Sunday at a news conference. "But let's not exaggerate, it's not exactly a (Brazilian) style of football." No, but Hamren has done away with the stodgy 4-4-2 lineup that his predecessor Lars Lagerback — and the Sweden coaches before him — stuck to for so long.
Instead, Sweden plays a type of 4-2-3-1 with Ibrahimovic expected to be deployed as a playmaker behind the center forward in Kiev. That's been a recent adjustment from Hamren, who usually put "Ibra" up front during qualifying, and his effectiveness in the No. 10 role will likely decide Sweden's fate in Group D, which also includes England and France.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is hoping Sweden\'s new attacking philosophy can take Ukraine and anyone watching by surprise.
"Any team can spring a surprise," Ibrahimovic said. "Who thought that Denmark would beat the Netherlands?"
He also promised that Sweden will continue to "do the things we've already been good at. It's just that now we do it with some new ideas that Erik has brought in as coach."
Sweden averaged more than three goals a game in qualifying for the tournament — a feat only matched by Spain, Germany and the Netherlands — and the match against Ukraine is probably its best opportunity in the group stage to impose its will on the game. Hamren was quick to acknowledge that Sweden may change its tactics against England and France.
"If our opponents are better than us, then we'll be defensive," he said. "If we are better than our opponents, we'll try to attack."
Regardless of whether Sweden succeeds or flops with its new philosophy, Ibrahimovic is likely to shoulder a majority of the praise or blame. As Sweden's only major star and captain, he knows full well that the team's results are often seen as a reflection of his own performance.
"I feel a lot of pressure," Ibrahimovic said. "But I like that kind of pressure."
Sweden will be facing the pressure of playing in front of Ukraine's home fans in the co-host's opening game, too, but Ibrahimovic — who has a Bosnian father and Serbian mother — said he wasn't worried about facing any potential racist abuse.
"All that stuff, you try to — not close your eyes to it, but as a football player I don't focus on it," he said. "The stuff that happens off the pitch is on a completely different level, it doesn't enter onto the field."
Sweden's only question mark going into the game is whether Galatasaray forward Johan Elmander will be fit to play up front, after struggling to recover from a foot fracture. Hamren said Elmander has been cleared to play by team doctors, but he has only been able to train fully for two days and his match fitness is questionable.
"That's the one thing I still have to think about," Hamren said. "But I'll talk to Johan about it later on Sunday night."