PREVIEW - Shot-shy Sweden hope to make Courtois work
By Brian Homewood
NICE, France (Reuters) - Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois may wonder whether he even needs to turn up to face Sweden on Wednesday given his opponents' dismal attacking record at Euro 2016.
The Swedes have failed to muster a single shot on target in their first two games, a statistic made all the more embarrassing by the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their attack.
Their only goal so far was scored for them by Ireland's Ciaran Clark in a 1-1 draw but they have singularly failed to exploit Ibrahimovic’s presence and they are now in danger of a second successive group stage exit.
A draw at Nice's Allianz Riviera in the Group E match would send Belgium to the last 16 alongside already-qualified Italy and almost certainly send the Swedes scuttling home.
A Swedish win would take them above Belgium and ensure second place providing Ireland did not beat Italy.
Forward Marcus Berg said that the statistics were not a fair reflection of their performances.
"I understand that from outside, it’s black and white, but for us it’s a little grey too. But now it has become an issue," he said.
“It’s up to the whole team to join in offensively," he said. "In the Ireland game we had some dangerous balls, and if we get a toe on the ball there it’s a goal."
One of Sweden's problems has been that Ibrahimovic has often dropped back into midfield so that he is no longer available to receive the ball in attack.
Midfielder Kim Kallstrom's performances have suggested that, at 33, his role as a box-to-box midfielder is a little ambitious. The Swiss-based player has performed his defensive duties well but has had little to offer in attack.
Winger Emil Forsberg has been largely anonymous in both games after both Ireland and Italy managed to close him down completely.
Sweden are also searching for a suitable partner for Ibrahimovic after neither John Guidetti, who started alongside him against Italy, nor Berg himself, against Ireland, performed the role effectively.
Coach Erik Hamren acknowledged the problem although he did not give any clues about changes.
"Of course, I would be happier if we had scored some goals but we do our best," he said. "We need to be better in offence, of course, if we are going to win the game.”
(Additional reporting by Phil O'Connor, editing by Julien Pretot)