Sweden and Spain will both return to international action on Thursday, when they square off in World Cup Qualifying action.
The two nations have both had strong starts to qualification, while they also come into the upcoming round of fixtures on the back of relatively impressive showings at Euro 2020 in the summer, as the visitors narrowly missed out in the semi-finals.
Sweden began their World Cup Qualifying in March with a 1-0 victory over Georgia, as Viktor Claesson netted the only goal of the game, before they made it back-to-back wins with a 3-0 victory in Kosovo thanks to goals from Ludwig Augustinsson, Alexander Isak and Sebastian Larsson.
Having made a perfect start to the group, Janne Andersson’s side headed into the delayed Euro 2020 tournament with high hopes, and they picked up a point in the opening group game as they held Spain to a goalless draw.
A 1-0 victory over Slovakia and a 3-2 win over Poland saw the Blagult pip Thursday’s opponents to top spot in Group E, and they met Ukraine in the round of 16, only to fall short in the dying minutes of extra time after Emil Forsberg had cancelled out Oleksandr Zinchenko’s first-half opener.
Despite the disappointment of a 2-1 defeat in the first knockout round, Andersson’s men took noticeable steps in the summer’s tournament, and they now return to action with the hopes of continuing a strong World Cup Qualifying campaign in their bid to reach next year’s competition after reaching the quarter-finals in 2018.
They take on a Spanish side who will look to build on a run deep into the European Championships with a victory to move clear at the top of the qualifying group.
Luis Enrique’s men started their World Cup Qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Greece, before they bounced back with a 2-1 away victory over Georgia, as Dani Olmo netted an injury-time winner after Ferran Torres had drawn them level.
They then made it back-to-back wins by beating Kosovo 3-1, with Olmo and Torres again on the scoresheet before Gerard Moreno sealed the victory to take them to seven points from three games.
La Roja then went into Euro 2020, and despite a slow start, they ensured qualification for the knockout stage with a 5-0 victory over Slovakia as Aymeric Laporte, Pablo Sarabia and Torres all found the net alongside own goals from Martin Dubravka and Juraj Kucka.
Enrique’s men met Croatia in the round of 16, and a late Mario Pasalic equaliser saw them held to a 3-3 draw after a dramatic encounter, but Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal both got on the scoresheet in the additional 30 minutes to fire their nation through to the final eight.
Their clash with Switzerland also went to extra time following a 1-1 draw, and with no change in the scoreline, they advanced after a penalty shootout win as Oyarzabal hit the winning spot kick.
For the third straight game, their semi-final tie with Italy finished level after Morata’s 80th-minute equaliser, and Enrique’s side fell short in the shootout to the eventual winners, but certainly gave an impressive account of themselves, having not been widely fancied before the tournament.
With Sweden having played a game fewer in the qualifying group, Spain will hope to pick up a third straight group win to put some distance between themselves and the second-placed side to strengthen their position for next year’s World Cup.
Sweden World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Sweden form (all competitions):
Spain World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Spain form (all competitions):
We say: Sweden 1-1 Spain
Sweden will certainly be no pushovers on Thursday, and given their impressive quality and Spain’s weakened squad, we do not see La Roja winning on their travels.
We are instead opting for a draw that should be relatively pleasing for both nations, as they look to keep hold of the top spots in the qualifying group.