Without Zlatan, Sweden Ruin South Korea's Effort to Win World Cup Opener

Rory Marsden@@roomarsdenFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2018

Sweden's defender Andreas Granqvist (L) celebrate after scoring a penalty during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Sweden and South Korea at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on June 18, 2018. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
DIMITAR DILKOFF/Getty Images

Sweden made a winning start to their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign as they beat South Korea 1-0 at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Group F on Monday. 

Andreas Granqvist netted from the penalty spot in the 65th minute after the video assistant referee was called into action to give Sweden a potentially crucial victory even without the retired Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The victory puts the European side up alongside Mexico with three points in the group standings following El Tri's shock defeat of Germany, while the Asian outfit will have to play catch-up if they want to make the knockout rounds.

           

VAR Is Bloody Exciting

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA - JUNE 18:  Kim Min-Woo of Korea Republic fouls Viktor Claesson of Sweden inside the box, leading to a VAR decision penalty during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Sweden and Korea Republic at Nizhniy Novgorod
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Many worried ahead of the tournament that the use of VAR might be a disaster, per The Independent's Andrew Griffin.

The technology is only in its infancy and the process used by referees not thoroughly tested.

But it has, so far, proved largely a success in Russia, and it certainly provided the most interesting moment of Monday's game.

Not only that, but it also led to the correct decision, per Match of the Day's Gary Lineker:

Kim Min-Woo took Viktor Claesson down in the box in the 62nd minute, and the Swedish side were up in arms.

Rightly so, it turned out, as the replays showed it was indeed a penalty, and centre-back Granqvist scored from the spot with admirable composure. 

         

Sweden, Korea Won't Trouble Mexico, Germany

Germany were deservedly beaten by Mexico on Sunday and could barely have predicted a worse start to their title defence.

But, based on the evidence from Nizhny Novgorod on Monday, they will have their chances to make amends, while Mexico should claim all nine points from Group F.

Sweden were the dominant force going forward against Korea, especially in the first half, and Marcus Berg was denied on two occasions, first by a fantastic Cho Hyun-woo save and then a brilliant Kim Young-gwon tackle.

Korea will struggle to keep out the far superior attacks of Mexico and Germany, though, and Sweden's inability to be clinical in front of goal from open play will also be punished by Group F's better sides.

               

Sweden Could Still Use Zlatan

The sight of Sweden missing numerous fine chances did lead many to question whether Ibrahimovic could add something to the side, per Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated:

The larger-than-life striker retired from international football after UEFA Euro 2016, and Sweden did an admirable job of qualifying for Russia 2018 without him, finishing above the Netherlands in their group before beating Italy in a play-off.

But, despite being 36, Zlatan could have made things easier for Sweden on Monday by putting away some of the golden chances they carved out in the first half.

Janne Andersson's men were eventually rewarded with a penalty and arguably deserved their victory.

If they are to have any chance of taking further points at this tournament, they need to be more clinical, and Ibrahimovic could have helped with that. 

                          

What's Next?

South Korea face Mexico at the Rostov Arena on Saturday, and Sweden play defending champions Germany the same day at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi.

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