Move over Ibra: Alexander Isak is Sweden’s new king 

June 20 – On a steamy afternoon near the Gulf of Finland, Aleksander Isak emerged as the new heir to Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Sweden and Russia lived up to their reputations of playing stifling football in a match of diabolical quality. 

The youngster from the northern suburbs of Stockholm didn’t score, but enlightened the match with his mazy runs and tenacity. On the back of a fine season with Real Sociedad, he led the Swedish line with a maturity beyond his years.

“It is really good to see him on the pitch, he is a young player he still has much left to progress,” said Sweden coach Janne Andersson of the prodigy. In the second half, Isak got support from the lively substitute Robin Quaison, who grew up in the same area of the Swedish capital.

The pair ignited a match that needed a spark. Both Sweden and Slovakia were tepid and tedious in a first half shorn of meaningful attempts on target. The two teams deflated proceedings by knocking the ball about harmlessly.

Sweden coach Andersson had promised Sweden weren’t going to go ‘gung ho’.  That was a bit of an understatement as Sweden at times seemed to treat Slovakia like Spain. The real tragedy was that both Andersson and Stefan Tarkovic must have been satisfied at half-time with the way the match was going.

It took until the hour mark for significant goal-mouth action. Augustinsson powered a header towards goal from six yards and Martin Dubravka produced a brilliant one-handed save and from the resultant corner Danielsson noded over from close range. Sweden showed intention and Andersson introduced Quaison for veteran striker Marcus Berg. Together with Isak, he galvanized the Sweden attack. The number eleven went on a beautiful meandering solo, leaving three defenders in his wake only to be denied by Dubravka in the 71st minute.

The Swedish were rewarded for all their endeavor when Dubravka took down Quaison in the box and Emil Forsberg dully converted the spot kick. In a frantic finale, Slovakia threw the kitchen sink at Sweden, who held firm.

“We have our way of playing football,” said Andersson, countering criticism over his team’s conservative playing style. “I don’t think it was a good half myself but we showed the way we want to play in the second half I think.”

Sweden’s defensive style may not be endearing, but with Isak they have a promising striker who can give the team a more offensive outlook at Euro 2020 and in the years to come.

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