Sweden and Czech Republic will be looking to move to the brink of World Cup qualification when they square off in their semi-final playoff tie on Thursday evening.
Whoever prevails from the fixture in Solna will set up a clash with Poland, who have already progressed through to the final courtesy of Russia being thrown out of the competition due to the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.
Having been drawn with Spain, you would be forgiven for thinking that Sweden are satisfied with earning a spot in the playoffs, but Janne Andersson and his squad will feel that they should have already earned a place in Qatar.
With two matches remaining, their fate was in their own hands, a scenario which changed when they surprisingly lost 2-0 in Georgia and subsequently handed a slender advantage back to the group favourites.
Spain capitalised in the final game of the group, prevailing 1-0 through a late goal, and it has left Sweden with plenty of work to do if they want to secure a second successive appearance at the World Cup Finals.
Despite the frustration, the Blue and Yellow have been left to win home fixtures against Czech Republic and Poland to achieve that goal, something that they would have taken before the draw was made at the end of last year.
Sweden have not suffered a home defeat since September 2020, and it is a record which will not be lost on their upcoming opponents who have not always excelled away from their home patch.
During their qualifying campaign, defeats in Belgium and Wales were posted without getting on the scoresheet, although they did score eight times in the meetings with Estonia and Belarus.
Nevertheless, this is a team which reached the Euro 2020 quarter-finals courtesy of defeating the Netherlands along the way, and they will back themselves to trouble any of the continent’s top teams.
Since losing to Belgium in September, a five-match unbeaten streak has been put together, with draws against Ukraine and Wales being recorded from a losing position.
While there is an argument that Czech Republic are the slight underdogs for this game, Jaroslav Silhavy has more form players at his disposal with the likes of Tomas Soucek starring for his club West Ham United on the domestic and continental scene.
Sweden World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Sweden form (all competitions):
Czech Republic World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Czech Republic form (all competitions):
We say: Sweden 1-2 Czech Republic
Having pushed Spain during their group, Sweden will fancy their chances of setting up a final with Poland. However, we feel that Czech Republic have the edge in important areas of the pitch, leading us to predict an away victory by the odd goal in three.