INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on Friday's UEFA World Cup qualifying clash between Sweden and France in Solna.
Sweden v France | Friday 19:45 | Sky Sports 1
When Euro 2016 hosts and pre-tournament favourites France suffered an agonising defeat to Portugal in the final before toiling towards a 0-0 draw with Belarus in their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier, head coach Didier Deschamps’ position was called into question.
But few bothered to highlight the fact that Les Blues had dominated possession, territory and the shot count against the Belarusians, only denied victory by a spurning a catalogue of goalscoring opportunities on a wasteful evening; on another night, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and others could have hacked up in Borisov.
France back on track
Fast forward nine months and France now have the opportunity to open up a virtually unassailable position at the top of Group A should they overcome Sweden in Solna on Friday night, thanks to four successive victories.
The demons of last summer haven’t yet been put to bed but Deschamps’ squad are once again marking themselves out as one of the planet’s strongest sides.
With young stars such as Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Demebele and Thomas Lemar joining what was already a powerful group, Les Blues look primed to have a serious tilt at World Cup glory next summer.
Perhaps the only question mark resides over Deschamps himself. During his reign as France boss the former World Cup winner has appeared almost overwhelmed by his options with no clear sense of what his best side or system is.
On Friday night he looks likely to surround target man Olivier Giroud – scorer of a hat-trick in last week’s 5-0 friendly thrashing of Paraguay – with the diverse threats of Griezmann, Mbappe and Alexandre Lacazette, showcasing the sheer array of glittery offensive artillery at his disposal.
Still, the stats are kind to Deschamps. France have only been beaten in one of their last 20 fixtures but whilst there’s few concerns about their attacking potential, defensively they’ve shipped goals in five of their past seven games as guests, including their most recent away day at Luxembourg,
So immediately a pro goals-based selection appeals on Friday night and Both Teams To Score seems our most sensible avenue of attack with 6/5 available at BetStars.
Les Blues have been chalked up as 8/11 (Bet365) shots to take maximum points here but that’s just too short, for me.
Sweden no easy meat in Solna
Sweden have started life after Zlatan Ibrahimovic well under Janne Andersson and only narrowly fell to a defeat in the reverse encounter in Paris back in November; young gun Emil Forsberg giving the Blue-Yellow an early advantage in that clash.
Although the Swedes ultimately lost that contest, Andersson’s charges have scored a hugely impressive 13 goals in their last three games and they have been on target in each of their nine matches since they were eliminated from Euro 2016 after suffering a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belgium.
The Blue-Yellow bagged an excellent 3-2 exhibition success at continental champions Portugal last time out and have won four of their past five fixtures since opening their account with a home draw against the Netherlands.
On home soil, Sweden have W3-D1-L0 at the Friends Arena since June 2016, scoring 11 goals and I’d fancy them to again make their mark here having already accumulated 32 efforts on-target in their opening five outings – only eight nations have landed more.
France are rightly favourites but knowing a point will keep Sweden at arms length, there’s no real urge to go all-out for the victory so there’s enough doubt to swerve the away success at the quotes. However, as the race to reach Russia gathers pace, I do fancy this enticing encounter to produce goals.
Sweden v France – Both Teams To Score (6/5 BetStars)