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Jun 22, 2016

Sweden vs. Belgium: Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic be going home?

Group E has already seen Italy finish top, so Belgium need just a point against Sweden to finish second. Can the Swedes, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, finally put in a performance to aid their qualification hopes?

John Chapman (Belgium) and Mattias Karen (Sweden) preview the crunch clash in Nice, France.
What's at stake here?
Mattias Karen: For Sweden, this is pretty much win or go home. The Swedes have dug themselves into a hole by earning just one point from two unimpressive performances and must now beat a Belgium side that has everything to play for. There is a very slim chance that a draw could put Sweden through as the fourth-best third-place team, but they need too many other results to go their way for that to be a realistic hope. The problem for manager Erik Hamren's team is that they have yet to muster a single shot on target and now face arguably the strongest squad in the group. This could be the last hurrah for Ibrahimovic on a big international stage.
John Chapman: Belgium manager Marc Wilmots gave a very bullish news conference after the victory over Ireland, and he enjoyed telling the media, especially the Flemish representatives, just how wrong they had been. Now it's on to Nice, and Wilmots says he's not interested in a draw to take second place in the group -- only a win will do. Belgium could still finish bottom of their group if they lose and Ireland beat an Italian B team, so they won't be relaxing. Sweden need a win to survive and if they go forward in numbers, Belgium are masters of the counter-attack.
Key battle
MK: Romelu Lukaku vs. Andreas Granqvist
The Everton man is the best, and strongest, striker Sweden has faced in the tournament. Centre-back Andreas Granqvist doesn't mind a physical battle, though, and will likely be charged with keeping the 23-year-old contained. The veteran defender will have his hands full, for sure, but he must succeed and use all of his experience for Sweden to have any hope at all.
JC: Belgian defence vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic is not the type of player to be pinned down to any one position in the attack. He's world-class, but apart from one moment against Ireland, he's been quiet. He has something of a reputation for disappearing at big games, but this has to be the moment that he comes alive for Sweden. For Belgium, the focus before the Euros was all about the back four and where Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen would play. Then Thomas Vermaelen came in and surprised people by having two solid games at centre-back, with Vertonghen on the left. Against Ireland, Thomas Meunier was at right-back rather than the more defensive Laurent Ciman. Meunier is untested defensively, and if he's there, Ibrahimovic could fancy moving out to the left, and that could be an interesting contest.
Star man
MK: Andreas Isaksson
Goalkeeper Isaksson is set for a busy evening on his 133rd cap, which could well be his last. The 34-year-old has been a stalwart for Sweden since 2004 but is quitting the national team after this tournament. If he wants to prolong his international career, he might need one of his best performances yet in a game Belgium should dominate.
JC: Romelu Lukaku
When Belgium played Ireland, it had all the trappings of Premier League match, with both sides going for the win once Wilmots' men had taken the lead. Spaces opened up all over the pitch, and Belgium had the players in Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Meunier to take advantage of them. Running into those spaces was Lukaku, who was allowed to show the form that has made him one of the Premier League's most prolific scorers. He could well find more freedom against Sweden and literally fill his boots. "Big Rom" could enjoy himself again.
MK: Belgium to win 3-1. Sweden just don't have the quality to match the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku. But at least they should muster a goal.
JC: Belgium to win 3-0. I see Belgium having a big win against the so-far-disappointing Swedes.

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