Sweden and Switzerland face each other in the penultimate game of the 2018 World Cup last 16 on Tuesday in the historic city of Saint Petersburg, with both countries viewing this game as an excellent opportunity to reach the quarter finals.
Recent Form & World Cup Record
Sweden emerged from the group stage with six points from a possible nine to reach the knockout rounds, securing top spot in Group F after beating Mexico 3-0 in the final game.
They had only got into the UEFA playoffs during qualifying by virtue of having a better goal difference that the Netherlands and then ground out 1-0 aggregate win over Italy. Immediately, prior to the World Cup their result were poor, with no wins from their any of their four friendlies in March or June. That has mattered little since the start of the tournament, though.
Overall, this is the fourth successive time that Sweden have reached the knockout stages of World Cups they have qualified for after similarly escaping the group stage in 1994, 2002 and 2006. The Blagult also famously played in the final against Pele's Brazil on home soil in 1958.
Switzerland were always expected to qualify for the knockout stages as second place behind Brazil in Group E and that is exactly what happened after drawing with the Selecao, before beating Serbia in the crucial game and then securing passage with a draw against Costa Rica.
During qualifying, a loss against Portugal in Lisbon in the final game was the only blot on an otherwise perfect 100% winning record, which led to a narrow playoff win over Northern Ireland.
Switzerland are used to winning, as their current FIFA World Ranking of sixth would suggest, but in World Cups they haven't been to the quarter finals since 1954 on home soil. Three of their last four World Cups (1994, 2006, 2014) have ended in the last 16.
Head to Head
Sweden and Switzerland have faced each other on 27 occasions since they met for the very first time in an international fixture back in 1920 and it has been honours even in those 98 years, with 10 wins for each side and seven draws.
The last time they played each other was a 2002 friendly that finished 1-1 after goals from Swedish forward Marcus Allback and Swiss midfielder Ricardo Cabanas, while the countries have never previously met in the finals of a major tournament.
The Swedes will be without Sebastian Larsson, who is suspended after picking up two yellow cards during the group stage. That is likely to mean that Gustav Svensson gets the nod to start after so far only appearing as a substitute.
There are no injury concerns for coach Janne Andersson, who will surely name the 10 available players who started the 3-0 win over Mexico. He will, however, have to be aware that Albin Ekdal, Viktor Claesson and Mikael Lustig are carrying yellow cards.
It will be a patched up back four for Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic as both Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar are suspended after being shown yellow cards in the third and final group game against Costa Rica. That could mean that Michael Lang and Nico Elvedi come in.
Steven Zuber missed the Costa Rica game through illness and faces a battle to get his place back after replacement Breel Embolo was a top performer in the 2-2 draw.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Valon Behrami and Denia Zakaria are the Swiss players on yellow cards and would be banned from a possible quarter final if they get another here and the team progress.
Sweden (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Svensson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Toivonen, Berg
Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lang, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez; Berhami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Embolo; Seferovic
This game could well become a battle of wits. Neither team has the capability to play the other team off the pitch with free flowing football and have each so far relied on tactical resilience to deservedly get themselves to this point in the tournament.
Sweden have already shown tremendous grit to get the big win they needed against Mexico in their final group game, playing to their strengths, and could show more of the same to win it by a single goal, maybe in extra time.
Sweden 1-0 Switzerland (AET)