Sweden ended up four points short of Spain in their qualifying group and will be disappointed they couldn’t maintain top spot after a terrific start. They kicked off 2021 with seven wins from eight unbeaten matches across all competitions, before an extra-time defeat to Ukraine in Euro 2020, and even beat Spain at home in September.
However three defeats from their last five outings ultimately scuppered their automatic qualifying hopes, all coming on the road at Greece, Georgia and Spain.
Still, that leaves Sweden with an impressive W11-D2-L3 record over 90 minutes since the start of 2021. They also hold a fantastic recent record on home turf, where they’ve won each of their last nine since suffering back-to-back defeats against elite sides France and Portugal in the Nations League back in September 2020. That run saw them plunder 18 goals and concede just four at the other end, so it’s understandable that they head into this clash as strong favourites.
The Czech Republic didn’t fare so well in qualifying, finishing third in their group behind Belgium and Wales, as they had to rely upon the Nations League to reach these play-offs.
They did enjoy a run to the quarter-finals at Euro 2020, even beating the Netherlands en route, though were reliant upon star striker Patrik Schick, who finished joint-top scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo on five goals.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Schick, who has managed 20 goals from as many Bundesliga games for Leverkusen this term, won’t play a part here. He’s bagged 12 goals for the national side in 14 appearances where he played at least 50 minutes since July 2019, so he’s undoubtedly a huge loss for Jaroslav Silhavy’s side.
Fellow forwards Matej Vydra and Michael Krmencik aren’t in the squad either, so the Czech Republic are looking light in attack. There are absentees further back as well, with centre-backs Tomas Kalas, Ondrej Celustka and Ondrej Kudela unavailable, as well as regular full-backs Vladimir Coufal and Filip Novak.
Sweden To Win To Nil
Sweden aren’t without any concerns of their own, with right-back Emil Krafth and veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic both suspended. However, Ibra has barely featured for Sweden in recent years having initially retired from international duty following Euro 2016, with Alexander Isak emerging as the stand out option in attack.
The Real Sociedad man isn’t prolific, but his all round game means he’ll contribute to the cause regardless of whether he can find the net. Sweden also appear stronger in the wide areas with Man Utd’s Anthony Elanga earning his first senior call-up, providing back-up to the experienced Emil Forsberg and the in-form Dejan Kulusevski.
Although Sweden appear good value for the win, there’s a strong case to be made to suggest it should be accompanied with a clean sheet. At least one team has failed to score in 18 of Sweden’s past 28 matches, while the Czech Republic have lost without finding the net in five of their past eight away games and should struggle in the absence of Schick.
SWEDEN TO WIN TO NIL
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