Sweden vs. England: Key Battles to Watch in International Friendly
Sweden will play England for the third time in 18 months on Wednesday when they host them for an international friendly in Stockholm.
The fixture has been arranged to mark the opening of the country's new 50,000-seater national stadium, the Friends Arena, located in the Solna district of the Swedish capital.
England won the last two meetings—a win during the Euro 2012 group stages in the summer and a friendly win at Wembley last November—but they have not won on Swedish soil since 1965.
The visitors have been beset by injuries Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott among the players missing the trip, but the game still has at least the promise of serving up fare more engaging than your average international friendly.
Here are four key battles which will go towards deciding the result on Wednesday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Gary Cahill
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With John Terry retired from international football and Joleon Lescott missing out through injury, England are once again set to field a central defensive pairing of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka.
Ibrahimovic has been in sublime form since making his much-publicised and well-remunerated move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. The mercurial forward's haul of 10 goals currently has him top of the Ligue 1 scoring charts and PSG top of the table. He recently set up every goal in the 4-0 Champions League over Dinamo Zagreb, with each assist more sublime than the last.
It is likely to fall to the taller and more mobile Cahill to be put on Zlatan detail, with the forward favouring the deeper role for his new club that he has taken up for his country for some time now, while Jagielka could be deployed in more traditional stopper mode.
Despite playing for Bolton Wanderers this time last year Cahill is achieved something not even the highly-decorated Ibrahimovic can boast by winning the Champions League last season. He was also part of the defence which claimed a clean sheet against Ibrahimovic and Sweden in a friendly at Wembley almost exactly a year ago.
However, the defender will be given a thorough examination of his class as an in-form Ibra aims to open his country's new national stadium in style.
Anders Svensson vs. Steven Gerrard
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If Sweden are to beat England at their new home on Wednesday, it will be another high point in what has already been a great month for Anders Svensson.
The 36-year-old midfielder began November by winning the Swedish league title as captain of Elfsborg and he will face off against Steven Gerrard this week, fitness to the England skipper permitting.
Svensson is officially Sweden's vice-captain, although many see him as the true leader of the side instead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who took the armband back off Svensson when he ended his self-imposed international exile.
Gerrard has generally been starting in a deeper midfield role for England under Hodgson's management, although he has been given more licence to roam since the safety-first approach of Euro 2012.
That means the two midfield veterans are sure to come into contact plenty of times on Wednesday, and whoever gets the better of that duel will go a long way to enhancing their side's chances of winning their final game of the year.
Pontus Wernbloom vs. Tom Cleverley
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Since making his senior England debut in the summer friendly against Italy, Cleverley has started all five of England's games this season.
The Manchester United man has been afforded several chances to impress due to long-term injuries to other key midfielders and the dearth of other creative midfielders of his type available for England.
With England likely to field a lone centre-forward in Stockholm, Cleverley has an important job to do behind the striker, linking midfield with attack and creating openings.
Sweden will have to address that threat, and it could be Wernbloom who is set the task of limiting Cleverley's influence.
The 26-year-old, who joined CSKA Moscow from AZ Alkmaar earlier in the year, is known for his uncompromising and tough style of play, and Sweden boss Erik Hamren could use him to sit deep and mark Cleverley out of the game.
Jonas Olsson vs. Danny Welbeck
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It speaks volumes for both the plethora of injuries and lack of depth among England's strikers that Hodgson has only two recognised Premier League front men in his squad.
Daniel Sturridge is yet to start a Premier League game this season, and has only played 105 minutes in the competition this season, so Danny Welbeck is set to lead the line in Stockholm despite scoring the same number of league goals this term—one—but having started five games.
Welbeck has never scored against West Brom in any of the four matches he has played against the Baggies either for Manchester United or Sunderland, where he spent a season on loan.
Baggies centre-back Olsson is an accomplished defender and a strong presence in the air who can also deal with the ball well on the ground.
The 29-year-old recently spoke about his desire to get one over on England following their defeat at Euro 2012 (via ESPN FC):
I'm looking forward to getting some revenge for the Euros. That was a tough game and I don't think I have ever been as disappointed as I was from that game, because we went out of the Euros. Especially when I have my life over here. I want to beat you guys.