ST PETERSBURG – A deflected shot from Emil Forsberg gave Sweden a 1-0 victory over Switzerland in a scrappy round of 16 match on Tuesday, sending the Swedes through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 24 years.
A meeting with either Colombia or England awaits Janne Andersson’s side in the next round, and judging by the fare they served up in St Petersburg, neither team will lose much sleep over the prospect of facing the limited Swedish attack.
Both teams were wasteful in possession and guilty of the sort of poor finishing and unimaginative midfield play that had boos and whistles ringing around the St Petersburg stadium from as early as the 25th minute.
Switzerland came into the match as the side with arguably the greater wealth of attacking talent, but their four shots on target over the 90 minutes told its own story.
Sweden had one attempt fewer on target, with the only difference being that one of them took a heavy deflection and wrong-footed Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer to send the Swedes into the next round.
The Swedes were happy to pack midfield and send the Swiss down the wings, surrendering possession while looking to pinch a goal at the other end on the counter.
Marcus Berg forced a fine save from Sommer in the 27th minute and Albin Ekdal squandered an excellent chance when he volleyed over the bar from 12 metres out after getting on the end of a cross from Mikael Lustig.
At the other end, Blerim Dzemaili wasted Switzerland’s best chance when he fired over from 12 metres, while Xherdan Shaqiri had an awful day at the office, sending long balls from the wing sailing over the heads of his team mates with alarming regularity.
The teams went into the interval locked in a goalless stalemate, and the second half started in a similarly stultifying manner, with the game looking like it was inching inevitably towards extra time and potentially a penalty shootout.
Even the goal that decided the contest had a fair bit of fortune about it.
Forsberg’s 66th minute shot was headed straight at Sommer until Manuel Akanji stuck out a foot and deflected it past his stranded keeper.
Switzerland sparked into life after the goal, but Sweden defended stoutly, and looked threatening on the counter-attack.
They broke through the Swiss cordon deep into extra time when the substitute Martin Olsson was released into space and brought down by Michael Lang just outside the box.
The referee gave Lang a red card and at first awarded a penalty to the Swedes, but changed his mind after consulting the video assistant referee (VAR) and instead awarded a free kick. Sommer saved Ola Toivonen’s effort, and the game ended seconds later.