Sweden win the Janne Andersson way as unlikely World Cup run continues
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- At one point, you wondered if they were going to leave. For most of the 90 minutes and stoppage time, the main block of canary-yellow-clad Sweden fans had called out the same name, through Emil Forsberg's goal and goalkeeper Robin Olsen's decisive last-ditch save.
And they continued after the final whistle, through the handshakes and the postgame flash interviews and the waves to friends and family. The name continued to ring out even after the players -- perhaps still stunned by the realization that, yes, they were in the elite eight of the World Cup after a 1-0 win vs. Switzerland -- had come under the stand to clap and thank them for their support.
Now, other than those supporters -- bouncing and rhythmically chanting -- the stadium was near empty, but for a few stragglers in the stands, some volunteers and groundsmen. And yet they went on calling his name.
Not Sweden's best-ever player. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in Los Angeles, busy tweeting LeBron James.
Not the second best -- and goal scorer -- either. Forsberg was with his teammates, getting ready to receive his "Man of the Match" award.
Nope. The fans were invoking a 55-year-old, bespectacled bear of a man who never played top-flight football and who, before becoming Sweden coach, had only worked at smaller clubs like Norrkoping -- with whom he won a league title -- and Halmstads.
And now they were calling him out for a curtain call, as if he was part rock star, part cult leader.
"It was surreal," Janne Andersson said. "To be standing there and hear them calling my name ... it's just strange ... During the match I didn't really focus on it, because I was so immersed in the game ... but, after, I had to come back out to thank them again ... otherwise I'm not sure they would have left!"
Still beaming from victory that propelled his team into the quarterfinals, he looked stunned behind his glasses. But he was also quick to return to his mantra.
"Football is a team game, and we are a team and we must never forget that," he said (a veiled message to you-know-who? Probably not, but only he knows). "I am happy they were calling my name, but maybe it's because I was a symbol for this team, which personifies the approach I want to take. I can live with being a symbol, but that is all I am. It's not about me, it's about the team."
Against Switzerland, the "Janne Way" meant discipline, tight defending and waiting for a break. Whatever limits Sweden have in terms of technical ability, they believe they can make up for them by simply working harder.
Forsberg is Exhibit A. The RB Leipzig player is a class apart from his teammates and yet has the same blue-collar assignment as the guy on the opposite wing, Viktor Claesson: Up and down, close the space, come inside if the striker's movement allows, pick a pass if you see it.
Truth be told, Forsberg has been nowhere near as productive as he was before injury kept him out for two months last season -- he was arguably Bundesliga player of the year in 2016-17 -- but at no point was he given special treatment, even to help him along.
"Even when he doesn't succeed with a pass or a dribble he still contributes," said Andersson. "And that is important." There are different solutions for when stars don't shine the way they can and different managers try different approaches for different players. Forsberg was not nursed through his difficult period by any tactical shift or any special confidence boost. He was simply told it was business as usual.
"I do everything I can to help the team," Forsberg said. "I learned that sometimes things go up and sometimes things go down. But if you stay with your feet on the ground and do the simple things, you can always hope to succeed."
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That's the Janne Way: Trust the process. And, sure, if you step outside you notice that a deflected goal, whether this one or the one that got them to Russia in the first place, is a gift. But you have to be there, ready to take the gift when it's presented. And the only way you can be ready -- especially if you're this Sweden team -- is by outworking the opposition, Janne-style.
The man is in the zone, in a competitive trance and so are his players. One day they will wake up and realize how far they have come. But not yet.
"Sorry I am a bit crazy that way; I am not like a normal person," Andersson said. "I am filled with this state that I am in and that I can't describe. I don't have time for feelings, other than pride in our players and our fans. Other than that, I only focus on the process and the next game."
"You want to know how I feel?" he added. "I need to absorb it first. Ask me when it's over and I'll tell you. I promise."
The thing is, the way Sweden are going, it might not be over for a while.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.