Sweden show their quiet force with 1-0 win over Switzerland
ST PETERSBURG, Russia -- Three points from Sweden's 1-0 win over Switzerland to reach their first World Cup quarterfinal since 1994:
1. Forsberg fires Sweden into the final eight
You had the sense from the early stages that this game was going to be decided by an incident, whether it be an error, a moment of magic, a refereeing decision or, as it happened, a wildly deflected shot. Switzerland started with a bit more initiative, but Janne Andersson's double yellow wall held.
Ultimately, it was Emil Forsberg's deflected shot that turned the match and in some ways, it was history repeating itself. Another deflected shot, in the World Cup playoff against Italy, had determined Sweden's place in Russia at the Azzurri's expense.
Maybe the difference between then and now is that while that Sweden team backed into a place in the World Cup, this version is showing it belongs after victories over Mexico and South Korea and their creditable performance against Germany. It's not always pretty, but there is a cohesion and a single-mindedness to this group that squeezes every ounce of performance out of those canary-yellow jerseys.
As for Switzerland, the fear over missing Fabian Schar and Stephan Lichsteiner was probably overblown. Their deputies did their part; the concern was further up the pitch where, despite their technical edge, they couldn't break through the Swedish ranks.
2. Cruel break for Akanji
Manuel Akanji may not sleep on Tuesday night. Not because of a mistake he made (a defender will always try to deflect a goal-bound shot) but because of the random cruelty of the sport. His right foot met Forsberg's driven finish at just the wrong angle and it trickled behind Yann Sommer into the Swiss goal.
He will, you'd imagine, second-guess himself. Should he have come out quicker? Did he misjudge the trajectory of the shot? Would it have been better if he had not been there at all and Sommer had tried to save it on his own? It's understandable to over-analyze, but really, the reaction of his teammates -- quick to console him both at the time and at the final whistle -- tells him all he needs to know.
Stuff happens. Why fate chose you instead of a teammate to be in the way of that shot is something we'll never know. What matters isn't that it was him; what matters is how he bounces back and that, at 22 years old, he will have a chance to bounce back. Akanji has a bright future ahead at Borussia Dortmund and hopefully another two, or maybe three, World Cups.
3. Swedish fans a highlight of this World Cup
You often see a somewhat different type of fan at a World Cup than you would at a club game and with it, a different type of fan behaviour. Partly it's down to affordability; partly it's down to stadium design (all-seater stadiums don't exactly lend themselves to a certain type of fan experience) and partly it's down to the fact that tournaments like these bring together supporters from all over a country.
Coordination and chant lyrics can be a challenge, but change the colors and the language, and the Swedish fans at the Krestovsky stadium served up the kind of tifo you don't normally see at neutral grounds.
The large yellow swathe in the stand to the left of the Sweden bench rocked, rolled and bounced throughout the match, drowning out not just the Swiss fans but the usual "Ros-si-ya! Ros-si-ya!" howls that have regularly resonated across World Cup grounds even when the host nation wasn't playing. At one point, there was an elaborate call-response with chants echoing, yodel-like, across the ground.
The most serenaded wasn't a player, but the coach. And it went on for a full half-hour after the Swedish players left the pitch.
"Oh, Janne, Janne! Janne, Janne, Janne, Janne... ANDERSSON!"
It only ended when Andersson himself came out to acknowledge the players. You don't see that at World Cups, but then again, this is a special team.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.