For 15 years, Zlatan Ibrahimovic spoiled the passionate fans of Sweden with his brilliant dribbling and sensational scoring that recently led them to the Euro Cup for the fifth straight time. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end as Ibrahimovic announced his retirement from soccer after the Euro’s last June. For the Scandinavian country of eight million, the question now becomes, who will pick up the scoring for the Swedes?
Sweden returns only returns 24 goal scorers from a season ago. To put that in perspective, Ibrahimovic had 62 goals by himself. Striker Marcus Berg is the highest goal scorer on the team with 10, but at the age of 30 everyone has to wonder home many good years he has left. Remember, considering how tight and intense international soccer is, anyone reaching the age of 32 and over is considered past their prime.
Sweden will rely on secondary help from striker John Guidetti and forward Isaac Kiese Thelin. Both were part of Sweden’s U21 European Championship team that placed first last June. Despite all this, it will be a tall task for those two alone to fill the shoes of Swedish’s best player of all-time. The duo will be baptized by fire this week when Sweden’s 2018 World Cup campaign gets underway when Sweden hosts Holland on Tuesday which can be seen live on ESPN2.
The group includes France, Bulgeria Belarus and Luxembourg. With the home game against the underachieving Dutch side, Tuesday’s game is crucial for Sweden to earn at least a draw. A loss would be a devastating blow and an uphill climb during the rest of the qualifying cycle. Odds are against Sweden this time around. It will be very interesting to see how Sweden fairs being the underdog for the first time in a while. That being said, anything is possible.
The most intriguing development this season will be how Sweden responds to such a big gap at striker. Generally, two to three goals over the course of the cycle can be the difference from almost finishing second to finishing fourth. The soccer world knew that this day was bound to happen once Sweden became a one man team a few years ago. Ibrahimovic is no longer the bandage covering up Sweden’s lack of scoring. And Tuesday is the day where other players need to step up as the future of Swedish soccer will be put on full display.