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World Cup Group F preview: Sweden return with great ambition    

BEIJING China (Xinhua) -- After an absence of 12 years, Sweden will return to the World Cup with great ambition even if they are without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

As a representative of Nordic soccer, Sweden’s best performance in the World Cup came in 1958 when they took second  place after losing 5-2 to Brazil on home soil. Sweden completed another splendid performance when they placed third in 1994.

However, after being eliminated in the last 16 by the hosts Germany in 2006, the Blue and Yellows missed out  the World Cup two times in a row.

Even Ibrahimovic couldn’t rescue the team from being knocked out of football’s flagship event.

As the greatest player in Swedish football history, Ibrahimovic is the Swedish national team’s all-time leading scorer, managing 62 goals in 116 appearances.

He announced his retirement from the national team after Euro 2016.

After entering the “post Ibrahimovic” era, Sweden stunned the rest of the world by finishing second in the group stage of the World Cup European Zone qualification.

In the following playoffs, Janne Andersson’s side continued their shock performance to eliminate Italy 1-0 on aggregate, moving to the finals stage of the World Cup.

There have been rumors that Ibrahimovic, who is still in good condition, was likely to return to the national squad, but the team decided to travel to Russia without him.

If he had returned, Ibrahimovic would unquestionably have been the leader of the team, but there is a school of thought that his teammates are often too reliant on him to produce the goals.

Although his goals have rescued them on numerous occasions, his insistence on taking, and often wasting, every free-kick is a source of exasperation for fans and teammates alike.

Under Andersson, the players have been capable of playing a balanced style of attack and defense.

In the final 23-man squad, 27-year-old RB Leipzig winger Emil Forsberg is the fulcrum of Sweden’s attacking play, while the performances of central defensive pair Andreas Granqvist and Victor Lindelof also play an important role for the team.

Their tournament opener is against South Korea on June 18 and will be followed by a clash with defending champions Germany.

Assuming Sweden can collect four points from the previous two matches, their last group game with Mexico could decide their fate in the tournament, and it seems like that the clash is going to be the difference between a place in the next stage of the tournament, or an early exit.

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UPDATE:

World Cup Group G preview: England’s young
lions tasked with avenging 2014 shame

By Wang Zijiang and Larry Neild BEIJING China (Xinhua) -- Four years ago, there was a collective groan from the whole country as England were spectacularly knocked out of the Brazil World Cup at the first hurdle.

It was the first time England had been knocked out in the group stages since 1958, and the first time they have been eliminated after just two matches.

Four years on, Roy Hodgson’s successor Gareth Southgate hopes that among his 23-man squad there will be a winning 11 able to restore honor and glory.

Since taking charge of the team, Southgate has lost only two of the 16 World Cup preliminaries, notching up eight wins and six draws.

Southgate, who himself competed at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, has named what he believes is a balanced squad with a mix of experience, character and youth.

Uncapped Liverpool youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold, at 19, is the youngest member of the squad, while also gaining his first cap is Burnley’s 26-year old goalkeeper Nick Pope.

Three 30 something players bring that helping of experience, with Chelsea defender Gary Cahill, at 32, topping the most-capped list with 58 selections for England.

Manchester United’s Ashley Young, also 32, has earned 33 caps, and between them they have netted the ball 11 times for England.

Forward James Vardy, at 31, is the next oldest player with 21 caps to his credit, as well as seven goals.

Southgate has also included a sprinkling of younger players with just a small handful of caps, like Chelsea’s 22-year-old twice-capped midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Everton goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, 24, will also be collecting his third cap.

“I believe this is a squad which we can be excited about. It is a young group, but with some really important senior players so I feel the balance of the squad is good, both in terms of its experience, its character and also the positional balance,” Southgate said.

Southgate described his team as one with a lot of energy and athleticism, but with players that are equally comfortable in possession.

“I think people can see the style of play we’ve been looking to develop. The selection process has been over months really, it’s not just been the last few weeks,” he added.

Southgate has gone for youth and hope over tried, tested and failed in his 23-man squad for the World Cup.

Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere are out but Alexander-Arnold, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 22, and Marcus Rashford, 20, are in.

England will open their World Cup campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18.

They will also meet Group G rivals Panama and Belgium, in the hope that the misfortunes of 2014 will not be repeated
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