The U21 European Championship begins on Wednesday, June 17 and The Set Pieces’ new signing Phil Costa has previewed every team.
MANAGER: Hakan Ericson
FIXTURES: Italy (June 17, 1700GMT), England (June 20, 1700GMT), Portugal (June 23, 1945GMT)
OUR VERDICT: Despite heading into the tournament as one of the underdogs, Sweden won’t be here just to make up the numbers. They have a talented squad who play together regularly who are starting impressive careers for themselves. Maybe targets of winning the competition are unrealistic, but they could certainly make it out of the group stages.
Filip Helander: Filip Herlander is a 22 year old centre back for Malmö FF in the Allsvenskan. Standing at 6ft 4in, he is usually well positioned to head out any dangerous crosses as well as providing a threat in an attacking sense. Unfortunately he is quite slow and can be caught out by pace, but his levels of concentration and reading of the game allow him to always be in the right place at the right time, which leads to him becoming less exposed by faster strikers or forwards. He is also a strong and aggressive player, qualities always welcomed in defensive areas.
He was signed by Malmö in 2007 and they have given him plenty of first team opportunities. The league title winning 2013 season proved to be the real breakthrough campaign for Helander as he played 18 matches for the club, with these performances putting him on the radar. During the 2014/15 season, he again featured regularly for Malmö, especially during the Champions League group stages and was even nominated for the award of Allsvenskan defender of the year.
After featuring nearly 20 times again for Malmö last season, it is clear that the 22 year old has come of age. While he has the potential to become a top centre back, his lack of pace is something of a concern and he will find himself tested regularly at these championships with the amount of attacking talent on show. Should he play, we’ll gain a real insight into whether the giant centre back can progress further or if he has found his current level in the Allsvenskan.
Simon Tibbling :- Simon Tibbling is a fantastic deep lying playmaker. The 20 year old boasts a very skilled technical side to his game and on the ball he shows calmness and composure which is an extremely useful trait to have as a midfielder. Constantly finding space to make himself available for teammates shows a spatial awareness that few players develop until later on in their careers. At 5ft 8in and 67kg, he is not exactly built for too many physical battles in the middle of the park but he is a very good interceptor of the ball and when he does tackle, they are timed brilliantly without fouling his opponent.
Tibbling started out playing football at the age of six when his mother brought him to play with the local lower league club Grödinge SK. He initially wanted to quit playing after his first training session with them, but agreed to continue after his mother bribed him with Pokémon cards! At the age of nine Tibbling was invited by Stockholm based youth club IF Brommapojkarna to come train with them, and six months later he joined them permanently.
During his years there, Tibbling drew a lot of attention from some of the biggest clubs in the world. He went on trials with Manchester United, FC Bayern Munich and even Ajax. In the summer of 2010 Ajax met and negotiated with Brommapojkarna, but Tibbling wanted to stay in Sweden. Before the 2011 season, Tibbling instead chose to move to the bigger Stockholm club Djurgårdens IF. After becoming a key player for Djurgårdens despite still being in his teens, Groningen won the race for his signature in January 2015 for an undisclosed fee.
It is becoming a common theme for teams to use a deep lying playmaker, and Tibbling could fill that role perfectly for the Swedes. They do also have ex-Arsenal man Kristoffer Olsson who is capable of playing this role but Tibbling’s passing and intelligence is arguably superior. Having settled in Groningen, this is a tournament where the midfielder can just enjoy himself and look to gain some international experience under his belt. It won’t be long before bigger European clubs are enquiring for him.
Robin Quaison :- Robin Quaison had an inconsistent 2014/15, with his form and confidence both yo-yoing on a regular basis. When he is on his game, he is a wonderful passer of the ball and surprisingly creative in the final third with the ability to make a cute through balls to onrushing forwards. He is also a good dribbler, capable of pulling off a trick here and there to beat his man. However, when he is lacking confidence and match sharpness he is more of a hindrance than a help to the team. Misplacing passes, trying too hard to pull off the incredible and lack of work rate are all traits which tend to creep into his game.
Quaison was born in Stockholm on the 9th of October 1993, and he spent the earlier years of his career at local side AIK. He was sent on loan to Vasby United who play in Sweden’s second tier for a closer evaluation. After scoring 8 goals in 19 games, he was rewarded with his first professional contract. After 2 good seasons for AIK, appearing 51 times and scoring 7 goals, he was bought by Palermo in the summer of 2014. Palermo weren’t the only team interested, with Leeds, QPR, Ajax and Hellas Verona all interested in the 21 year-old.
While inconsistency was an issue, he is still only 21 years of age. He could offer Sweden energy and creativity going forward, and with Paulo Dybala Juventus bound, he will be looking to stake a claim as a regular starter for Palermo this season which could inspire him to travel to the Czech Republic fully motivated and raring to go.
Branimir Hrgota :- Branimir Hrgota’s main strength is his finishing. Younger players tend to have hit and miss finishing, and this is natural. However, after being a prolific scorer in Sweden – Hrgota seems to have this natural ability for putting the ball in the back of the net. He is equally capable on both feet, as well as being able to finish in a variety of different ways and situations. For example this season, he has scored goals from one-on-one scenarios, chipped goals, tap ins and even long rangers – this is always useful for a striker. Someone who can create something out of nothing.
Hrgota was born in Zenica in Bosnia & Herzegovina, but moved to Sweden at young age, where his talents would start taking shape. Hrgota shook the net 18 times in 25 matches in his first professional season for Jönköping’s Sodra, just turning 18 at the time. He went on to score 10 goals in 14 games the following season before finally moving to Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to have been around £325,000.
Hrgota is a very talented player, with all the attributes needed to become a success in the modern game. Now that he has decided to commit his international future to Sweden after much indecision, and he is seemingly edging his way closer into the Borussia Monchengladbach first team – he can focus on bettering himself as a player. He is able to play on the left and right wing if he needs to, but perhaps his future lies as a centre forward. Having just turned 22, this is the time in his career now where he really needs to start pushing for consistent first team football – at both international and club level. This tournament offers him a big opportunity to prove to Lucien Favre that he is worthy of leading the Gladbach line next season.
You can follow Phil Costa on Twitter (@costafc_)