Bitter loss to Germany made Sweden 'stronger,' coach says
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) — A last-minute loss to Germany was difficult enough for Sweden to accept. A questionable celebration by German players near the Swedish bench added to the disappointment. And a wave of racist abuse aimed at midfielder Jimmy Durmaz followed on social media.
The Swedish team has gone through some turbulent times at the World Cup, but coach Janne Andersson and captain Andreas Granqvist said the players have moved from bitter feelings they had and are ready for their final Group F game against Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday.
"We showed on Saturday we were able to match the reigning champions all the way to the end with the exception of the final 10 seconds," Andersson said through a translator in his team's pre-match news conference on Tuesday. "That match made us stronger, more confident.
"We're coming into tomorrow's game expecting that we can do a performance at the top level we've already showed on several occasions. We will do everything to win tomorrow. From that perspective, mentally, we're very, very strong. We believe in what we do."
In its first World Cup since 2006, Sweden beat South Korea 1-0 before the 2-1 loss to Germany.
"We were incredibly disappointed after the match," Granqvist said. "But we're very well prepared for the match tomorrow against Mexico. We're going to do everything in our power to get a result that we need."
Sweden still has a chance to advance to the knockout rounds.
Mexico leads the group with six points but isn't safe yet. If Germany defeats South Korea in Kazan and Sweden simultaneously tops Mexico, three teams would finish with six points, sending it to tiebreakers that start with the best goal differential.
Andersson said he was "saddened" by comments on social media, including by some senior members of the football association, that were abusive toward Durmaz. The player, who was born in Sweden to ethnic Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey, came on as a substitute on Saturday before giving away the free kick that led to Germany's winner in the injury time.
The team and Durmaz issued a joint statement condemning the abuse.
"It's important that we're able to move on after that," Andersson said. "We don't need to discuss it any further. I believe it's important to help each other, to support each other in football."
Said Granqvist: "We've let it go and are focusing on the match tomorrow, but it did have an impact on us to some extent."
He said the team reacted well to the incident.
"We're a very tight squad. We stick together, we fight together. We do everything for each other on and off the pitch."
Granqvist said the German team apologized for the players' celebration. Andersson called it "unsportsmanlike behavior" that has no place on the pitch.