The heir to Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally delivered for Sweden at the World Cup.
Emil Forsberg scored a deflected goal in the 66th minute to give the Swedes a 1-0 victory over Switzerland and a place in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 24 years.
Shy and understated, the 26-year-old Forsberg couldn’t be more different than the larger-than-life Ibrahimovic, who ruled the Sweden team for more than a decade and was the greatest player the country ever produced.
But Forsberg arrived in Russia shouldering the creative burden left by Ibrahimovic following his retirement two years ago, and the attacking midfielder’s skills and slick movement stood out at St Petersburg Stadium.
His goal was scruffy, though. After getting past Granit Xhaka, Forsberg didn’t get much power behind his shot from the edge of the area and it was likely heading straight for Switzerland keeper Yann Sommer. However, it took a deflection off the foot of centre back Manuel Akanji and bounced up and into the net.
The Swedes now meet England on Saturday in Samara but they will be without Celtic defender Mikael Lustig who will miss the game after collecting his second yellow card of the tournament for a tug on Josip Drmic in the first half. The last time Sweden made it this far at the World Cup was in 1994, when the team reached the semi-finals.
This was another opportunity spurned by the Swiss, who have reached the last 16 in four of the last five World Cups only to be eliminated without scoring a goal.
They finished the game with ten men after right-back Michael Lang was sent off in stoppage time for a professional foul on Sweden substitute Martin Olsson. The referee initially awarded a penalty but later gave a free-kick on the edge of the area after a video review.
Switzerland were fortunate to still be alive at that point.
Ibrahimovic, 36 and now playing out his illustrious career in the United States, would surely have put away some of the first-half chances created by his countrymen against a fragile Swiss defence. Striker Marcus Berg was the biggest culprit, spurning two openings in quick succession, while Albin Ekdal volleyed over with the goal at his mercy.
Sweden were limited but played to the strengths that got them to the top of a group containing Germany, Mexico and South Korea. The Swiss, conversely, didn’t play like a team ranked No 6 in the world and with only one loss in their previous 25 games. Their build-up play was sloppy, with the best effort falling to Remo Freuler with a late header that was saved by Robin Olsen.