Sweden, managed by the moustached Olle Nordin, were coming into qualifying Group 2 on the back of a very, very good 1988. They had drawn in West Germany, they had beaten the Soviet Union 2-0 and they had won 3-1 in Spain. The latter result might have to be viewed in light of the dismal Spanish European Championships showing, but nevertheless it was not expected of Sweden that they go to the Iberian Peninsula and win. Their only defeat in ’88 had come in their penultimate preparation game: a 2-1 home loss to old foes Denmark. Still, spirits were high, as Sweden had just come from a qualification tournament, the one ahead of West Germany ’88, in which they had taken the might of Italy all the way to the final match, where a 2-1 home win for the Italians had sealed the two nations’ respective faiths.
Sweden had had a lot of succesful club sides throughout the 80s, none more so than IFK Göteborg, who had made upsetting big clubs from mighty football nations a habit. In ’86, only a stunning Barcelona comeback in Camp Nou had prevented Blåvitt (“blue white”, their nickname) from reaching the European Cup final: IFK Göteborg had won 3-0 against the Catalan club in the first leg, only to succumb to the same fate in the return leg, eventually losing the tie on penalties. Indeed, their national team was founded on players from this team, even if most of them either had left or would be leaving the Swedish west coast club: three quarters of their most used backline would consist of players from that team in full-back Nilsson and centre backs Hysén and Larsson. And there were Pettersson and Ekström, the forwards.
Malmö FF had won the Swedish league in ’88 (played by the calendar year), and Nordin would look to a lot of their up and coming players when picking his squads. In particular, the energetic Jonas Thern was something of a prospect. The same could be said for wide player Joakim Nilsson. Up front, Mats Magnusson, another former Malmö player, now at Benfica, was creating something of a name for himself and his aerial strength down in Portugal. And tireless midfield man Robert Prytz had been abroad for many seasons, now with Atalanta in Italy, where he had joined the long-haired and skilful Glenn Strömberg, himself a former IFK Göteborg player. There was also cunning forward Hans Holmqvist at Seria A club Cesena, so the Swedish did have quite a few players plying their trade abroad. This would benefit the national team, and so Sweden were seen as a possible Group 2 winner, despite the presence of England and Poland. Could they live up to this tag?
31.08.1988 Sweden 1-2 Denmark
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, P Larsson, Hysén (c), Schiller (Ljung h-t) – Thern, Strömberg, Prytz (J Nilsson 69), Holmqvist – Eskilsson (Ekström h-t), Pettersson
12.10.1988 Sweden 0-0 Portugal
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Thern, Strömberg, Prytz (J Nilsson 78), Limpar – Holmqvist, Pettersson (Ekström 68)
Dire match in which the Swedish failed to break down the visitors in difficult conditions, Portugal always only interested in shutting the home side out. Few bright points, and Mr Nordin will have been left with a few questions yet ahead of their trip to Wembley.
19.10.1988. England 0-0 Sweden
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson (Schiller 77), P Larsson, Hysén (c), Ljung – Thern, Strömberg, Prytz, J Nilsson – Holmqvist (Ekström 64), Pettersson
The Swedish opened their qualification campaign with an impressive defensive display against a talented English team, and the match belonged to their captain Hysén, who performed extremely well. Rarely does one player stand out like he did during the 90 minutes at Wembley. Sweden did not produce a lot themselves, but they will have been pleased to shut England out.
05.11.1988 Albania 1-2 Sweden
Goals: Holmqvist, Ekström
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Thern, Strömberg, Prytz (Holmqvist 66), J Nilsson – Pettersson, Ekström
In very difficult conditions on a pitch so uneven it was hard to make much progress with the ball along the deck, Sweden impressed as they came from behind to beat Albania, much due to a fine introduction from the substitutes’ bench: forward Holmqvist had been brought on for central midfielder Prytz, and from his wide midfield role he helped cause trouble among the hitherto untroubled Albanian defence. Holmqvist got the equalizer himself, and Ekström got the winner hitting it into the ground and over the goalkeeper following a cushioned header by P. Larsson.
26.04.1989 Wales 0-2 Sweden
Goals: Schiller, Ratcliffe (own goal)
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Lönn, Ljung, Schiller – Limpar, Prytz, Thern (c), J Nilsson – Magnusson (Ekström 50), Pettersson
07.05.1989 Sweden 2-1 Poland
Goals: Ljung, Nylén-Larsson
Line-up (4-4-2): T Ravelli – R Nilsson, Lönn (A Ravelli 83), Ljung, Schiller – Limpar, Prytz, Thern (c), J Nilsson (N Larsson 60) – Ekström, Magnusson
Despite their dominance, Sweden fail to create many good opportunities. In the end they get their win, thanks to strong-willed efforts on set-pieces. Thern is a true driving force in central midfield and Magnusson shows good form on top. Limpar makes a rare appearance, in a strange role. It’s a makeshift defense, and they sometimes struggle with quick Polish attackers.
31.05.1989 Sweden 2-0 Algeria
Goals: Ingesson 2
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), Ljung, Schiller – N Larsson, Thern, Prytz (Ingesson 26), J Nilsson – Ekström, Magnusson
Friendly (Denmark FA centenary tournament)
14.06.1989 Denmark 6-0 Sweden
Line-up (4-4-2): Eriksson – R Nilsson, Hysén (c) (Schiller 39), Lönn, Ljung – Ekström, Strömberg, Prytz (Ingesson 68), J Nilsson – Gren (Thern h-t), Magnusson
Friendly (Denmark FA centenary tournament)
16.06.1989 Brazil 1-2 Sweden (Copenhagen)
Goals: Rehn, Ljung (pen.)
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson (c), Lönn, Ljung, Schiller (Nylén-Larsson h-t) – Limpar, Ingesson, Rehn, J Nilsson – Hellström, Magnusson (Gren 69)
16.08.1989 Sweden 2-4 France
Goals: Thern, Lindqvist
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Limpar (N Larsson 68), Strömberg, Thern, J Nilsson – Hellström, Magnusson (Lindqvist 58)
Another crushing defeat for otherwise solid Swedes, as they . . .
06.09.1989 Sweden 0-0 England
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Engqvist, Thern, Ingesson (Strömberg 72), J Nilsson (Limpar 79) – Ekström, Magnusson
After an indifferent summer, Sweden are content with keeping England out. Mr Nordin clearly predominantly focusing on getting a draw, as the main priority was to try and stifle the English flanks. Both Engqvist and Magnusson had opportunities to win it for the Swedish, but it would have been harsh on the visitors, who enjoyed a greater deal of possession. Sweden also thankful to goalkeeper Ravelli for some fine saves, most notably to Lineker’s late first half header, and also early in the second half as the same Spurs striker had threatened twice.
08.10.1989 Sweden 3-1 Albania
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Gren (Engqivst 67), Thern, Ingesson, Limpar – Ekström (Lindqvist 82), Magnusson
A must-win match for the Swedish, who fell behind early on, but did not let that trouble them. They kept belief in their approach, and eventually got the goals they deserved. They were never brilliant, but are a hard-working side which usually will create chances. Made the visitors pay for some sloppy defending for 3-1, but looked secure even before that as Albania were unable to threaten going forward after the break.
25.10.1989 Poland 0-2 Sweden
Line-up (4-4-2): Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Engqvist, Thern, Ingesson (N Larsson 70), J Nilsson – Ekström (Lindqvist 82), Magnusson
Sweden go to Kraków and win, something which secures their qualification for Italia ’90. They finish group winners ahead of England, as the only two points they surrender during the six matches long qualification campaign are during their two scoreless draws against the English. A firmly struck first half penalty by defender Larsson and a superb second half solo effort by pacey forward Ekström make the Polish pay for a somewhat laxidaisical performance. An inspired Sweden are good value for their win.
To qualify as group winners ahead of England was a major feather in the cap for Sweden manager Olle Nordin and his crew. They had twice had scoreless encounters with the English, and during the game at Wembley, defender Glenn Hysén had given one of the most resounding individual performances throughout the entire Italia ’90 qualification. Sweden had capable players in various positions across the pitch, but first and foremost relied on a strong collective in their tactically astute 4-4-2 formation.
It had been a fine feat to come back from a goal down to beat Albania in hostile circumstances in Tirana, and this set the tone for their qualification after they’d secured that precious point in London. They would then nick a late winner in the early summer home clash against Poland, something which more or less ensured a two-team battle for the top spot. With five points from their opening three matches, Sweden could look forward to the return leg with England in an optimistic mood, even if a couple of heavy summer friendly defeats could’ve taken their toll on morale and belief: Losing 6-0 in Denmark against their arch-rivals and then 4-2 at home to France had been very unusual for a team well known for their defensive mettle.
After an even, yet relatively eventless draw with the English in Stockholm, the Swedish again had to come from behind to beat Albania, and they would travel to Poland knowing that a win would see them overtake England and secure that precious automatic qualifying berth. With Poland’s hopes for qualification gone after their 0-0 draw against England, Sweden stepped up a notch to claim probably their strongest win of the competition by 2-0 in Chorzów. They’d finish top of the pile, with England ultimately joining them for Italia ’90 as one of the two best runners-up across the three qualification groups of only four teams.
Sweden were another team where team consistency was key: Nine players had started four games or more, with three players ever-presents in terms of minutes played. The total number of 22 used also indicated relatively few changes. Much thanks to his out of the world performance at Wembley, Hysén was their best performer, almost averaging 7,50 from his five contributions. Behind him, richly gifted midfielder Jonas Thern, who had secured a move from domestic football to Portugal giants Benfica during the qualification, was possibly their most influental player from midfield, where two Italy based players in Glenn Strömberg and Robert Prytz had disappointed.
Final position: 1 (out of 4 – qualified as group winners)
Total record: 6 4 2 0 9-3 10
Home record: 3 2 1 0 5-2 5
Away record: 3 2 1 0 4-1 5
Number of players used: 22
Number of players including unused substitutes: 28
Ever-presents (540 mins): 3 (T Ravelli, Ljung, Thern)
Leading goalscorer: Johnny Ekström (2)
Yellow/red cards: 4/0
|Larsson, Niclas Nylén||2||2||1||49||1|
– game by game
|Player||Eng (a)||Alb (a)||Pol (h)||Eng (h)||Alb (h)||Pol (a)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
14.02.1990 United Arab Emirates 2-1 Sweden
Line-up: S Andersson – N Larsson, Von der Burg, Vaattovaara, Kåmark (Schwarz 82) – Rödlund, Rehn, Engqvist (c) – Erlingmark, Eskilsson, Lindqvist
16.02.1990 United Arab Emirates 0-2 Sweden
Goals: Rehn, Ingesson
Line-up: L Eriksson – Kåmark, Erlingmark, J Eriksson, Schwarz – Engqvist (c), Rehn, Ingesson, J Nilsson – K Andersson, Ekström (Eskilsson 81)
21.02.1990 Belgium 0-0 Sweden
Line-up: Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c) (Schwarz h-t), P Larsson, Ljung – Engqvist, Rehn (N Larsson 64), Ingesson, J Nilsson – Pettersson, Magnusson (Ekström 58)
11.04.1990 Algeria 1-1 Sweden
Goal: Schwarz (pen.)
Line-up: Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Schwarz – Limpar, Strömberg, Ingesson, J Nilsson – Pettersson (Magnusson 67), Lindqvist (Ekström 53)
25.04.1990 Sweden 4-2 Wales
Goals: Brolin 2, Ingesson 2
Line-up: Ravelli – R Nilsson, Hysén (c), P Larsson, Ljung – Engqvist, Ingesson, Schwarz, Limpar – Brolin, Magnusson (Pettersson 70)
Thomas Brolin makes his international debut at the age of 20 with two goals to his name
27.05.1990 Sweden 6-0 Finland
Goals: Magnusson, Limpar, Brolin 2, P Larsson (pen.), Thern
Line-up: Ravelli – R Nilsson (N Larsson 64), Ljung, P Larsson, Schwarz – Limpar, Thern (c), Ingesson (Strömberg 73), J Nilsson – Magnusson (Ekström 68), Brolin (Pettersson 68)
…and follows up with a further two in his second match as the Swedes brush their near neighbours Finland aside