World Cup 2018: Sweden vs South Korea – Lineups, Preview & Prediction
Sweden and South Korea kick off their World Cup campaigns on Monday afternoon with a crucial three points at stake.
13:00 BST, Monday 11th June, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia), ITV
Sweden and South Korea begin their World Cup campaigns on Monday with a game that both will see as must win if they are to progress to the Round of 16.
Since Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from international duty after Euro 2016, Sweden have had to adapt to life without their superstar, and many would argue it has lead to a stronger collective.
Coming second in their group in a qualifying campaign that included a 2-1 win over group winners France in Stockholm, Sweden then shocked 2006 winners Italy in the playoff round in November.
Resilient and compact, without their pony-tailed superstar/egomaniac, Sweden harbour genuine hopes of getting through this group.
South Korea are the first team to stand in their way, and are a side that like Sweden were, are heavily relying on their one superstar. Son Heung-min has had another outstanding season at Tottenham, scoring 18 goals in all competitions.
With Son now 25 years old, South Korea will believe that this is the best chance they will have of seeing his absolute best on the world stage.
Last Time Out
Sweden 0-0 Peru [International Friendly]
Sweden elected to play two warm-up matches against teams that had also qualified for the finals in neighbours Denmark and then Peru. Both finished in stalemates and showed up their lack of prowess going forward.
The Swedes did feel they should have had a penalty though when Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese appeared to take out Viktor Claesson in the box. The referee however, waved play on.
Ola Toivonen wasted a good chance to take the lead, although Robin Olsen later had to be on his toes to deny Jefferson Farfan at the other end.
Senegal 2-0 South Korea [International Friendly]
It wasn’t the ideal preparation for the Koreans either, as they failed to beat Bolivia before losing pretty handily to Senegal behind closed doors in Austria.
The Koreans struggled to create out-and-out chances, and were undone when Kim Young-gwon turned into his own net.
Their misery was compounded when Amiens striker Moussa Konate added a second in stoppage time from the penalty spot.
Barring any late injuries, coach Janne Andersson is likely to start with exactly the same XI that drew 0-0 with Peru last week.
This means sticking with their tried and tested rigid 4-4-2, with experienced captain Andreas Granqvist partnering Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof at the back.
Sebastian Larsson, recently departed from England, will partner Albin Ekdal in a workmanlike midfield. Much of the creative burden will fall on the shoulders of Emil Forsberg to create chances for forwards Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen.
South Korea Lineup
South Korea also favour a 4-4-2 system, allowing them to play both RB Salzburg’s Hwang Hee-chan alongside star player Son Heung-min upfront.
They possess quality on the flanks, with Lee Jae-sung one of the best players in the K-League, and the exciting 20-year-old Lee Seung-woo of Hellas Verona in Italy.
Swansea’s Ki Sung-yueng is a key figure in this team, with his all-action midfield performances vital for his country.
Three of the back four ply their trades in the K-League, with Jang-Hyun-soo playing in Japan for FC Tokyo.
Key Battle: Mikael Lustig (Sweden) vs Son-Heung-min (South Korea)
Right back Mikael Lustig has been a stalwart for his country for a long time, but age has shown signs of catching up with him in the last 12 months. The quality of his performances for Celtic have started to deteriorate rapidly.
Although deployed upfront for South Korea, if Son Heung-min can isolate Lustig one-on-one, he could get a lot of joy.
It is rare to see two sides at this level both playing 4-4-2, so individual battles will have more of a bearing than usual in Nizhny Novgorod on Monday.
Son has scored 21 goals in 64 appearances for his country, including one at the last World Cup as a 21-year-old. He’ll be looking to add to that tally against the Swedes.
Do Sweden have enough firepower without Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen are both workmanlike forwards, but neither of them possess anything like the sort of quality that Zlatan Ibrahimovic did.
Berg managed an impressive eight goals in qualifying, although four came in one game against minnows Luxembourg.
Ibrahimovic’s retirement has brought a greater sense of collective to Sweden’s overall style of play and, frankly, they seem a more organised side without having to play to the LA Galaxy striker’s strengths, but is that at the risk of goals?
After 0-0 draws in both warmup friendlies, Berg and Toivonen will need to up their games and take whatever chances fall their way for Sweden to beat the Koreans and have a good chance of going through.
Can Son-Heung-min handle the pressure?
Son has put in absolutely brilliant performances alongside Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Dele Alli at Tottenham. When he plays for his national team however, the onus is solely on him to put in match-winning displays as the undisputed star.
In fact, South Korea go as far as playing a formation and style of football – the 4-4-2 – solely to benefit Son and how he plays at Tottenham, such is the dependance on him.
South Korea’s 2016 Rio Olympics campaign ended at the quarter final stage, with images of Son on the ground in floods of tears after missing a hatful of chances against Honduras.
They really don’t have anyone else of a similar level to call upon, so Son will have to produce those match-winning moments that he has been so good at conjuring up for Tottenham.
Prediction: Sweden 1-0 South Korea
Sweden will not be the most exhilarating team to watch at the 2018 World Cup, but they should have just about enough to navigate their way past the Koreans on matchday one.
The set pieces of Emil Forsberg will be important for the Swedes, and could help set up a winner for them on Monday afternoon.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group F in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.