Sweden’s hopes of appearing at UEFA EURO 2012 rest on two decisive upcoming matches against Finland and the Netherlands. Suspense is guaranteed tomorrow and on Tuesday as fans nervously follow the Blågult’s attempts to get the better of two difficult opponents and secure their ticket to Poland and Ukraine.
Such an achievement would be another important step in the development of this current Sweden team according to Ola Toivonen, the in-form forward who has just been appointed PSV captain.
“This team is talented but still lacks experience,” he told FIFA.com. “We’re difficult to beat because we have a really solid side. Physically and tactically speaking, we have the right players to compete at the highest level. But some of our veterans left, young guys came in, and we really need to take part in tournaments like EURO 2012 to take us to the next level.
“So far, apart from our loss to Hungary, when we just didn’t turn up, our qualifying campaign has been a success. We’ve shown great consistency and played pretty well overall,” added the forward of Finnish descent, who moved to the Dutch Eredivisie in 2009. With six wins, 26 goals scored and eight goals conceded, the Swedes boast statistics as impressive as that of the former Malmo attacker, who has registered 35 goals in 76 matches for PSV, as well as three in 17 for his country.
Absent from the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and eliminated at the first-round stage of UEFA EURO 2008, the Scandinavians’ mission is to restore a reputation that has taken a few knocks in recent years. As far as Toivonen is concerned, the team has the weaponry to achieve that goal.
“We’re confident in our chances because we have just the right blend of youth and experience in the side,” he said. “The match against Finland will be tough and draining, as always. We’ve not had an awful lot of time to prepare for it, either. But that’s also part and parcel of the game," explained Toivonen, who performed well for Sweden’s U-21 side before being promoted to the seniors in 2007.
"We shouldn’t worry about that too much. Instead, we should just give it our best shot. Our team’s full of talent, and good young players keep on making their way through. Change has been good for us - we know exactly where we want to be next year."
Appointed captain of his club during the summer, the new on-pitch leader at the Philips Stadion does not yet enjoy the same status at international level. “I was actually on the bench for the last match, even though I’d played in all the other ones before that,” he recalled.
“International football is different from playing with PSV, where we see a lot of the ball. We’re almost always the better team on the field, even in Europe. With Sweden, we first have to fight to gain control of the match. As a team, everything’s a bit more challenging,” said Toivonen, who has hit the net just once in seven encounters during this qualifying campaign.
In the Dutch league, the rangy blond striker has found goals a lot easier to come by. Having already excelled last year with 15 goals in 28 games, he has maintained that form in this all-important second season: “I’m playing in the same position, so that kind of stability helps a lot. I don’t really feel like I’m playing particularly better this season.”
“The only difference is the captaincy. It’s given me more responsibility on and off the park, and for my development that’s essential. Being handed the armband is an incredible honour, especially when I look at the names that have worn it before me, such as Mark van Bommel, Luc Nilis or Phillip Cocu.”
The three aforementioned former PSV skippers have all starred in a FIFA World Cup or a EURO. Toivonen would love to continue the trend.