I was devastated the day Sweden got knocked out of the World Cup, and that devastation lasted a full week. It felt like I was inches away from an emotional abyss, at least in my wicked football reality. Coach Janne Andersson? Sack him. Marcus Berg with his awful finishing? Deport him to Greenland. How much for three shots of vodka? Keep the change, bartender.
In reality, I should have felt nothing but pride after that 2-0 loss against England in the quarters. When my veins were drained from adrenaline and the stressful situation of enduring cocky Englishmen on social media faded, the memories started to clear up: Sweden had played in a World Cup quarter-final. How the hell did we manage this miracle? Why in the world didn’t I drape myself in a huge blue and yellow flag to celebrate this? Sweden should never have played this World Cup in the first place. Let’s go for a run down memory lane to jog our memory.
Sweden entered the World Cup qualifications stage in 2016 with a mediocre squad and brand new coach. Their group consisted of Belarus, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Netherlands, and France. This meant that Sweden had to finish above either France or the Netherlands to at least reach the play off stages. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had retired, and manager Andersson was completely untested in international football (he had never even managed a club outside of Sweden). Just like the last three World Cups, Sweden would spend this tournament watching from the sidelines.
A year-and-a-half later, the whole nation was on the edge of their seats for the draw of the World Cup playoffs. Somehow, Sweden had finished second in the group and we’re now hoping for an easy opponents. Italy? Well, the World Cup was never going to happen anyways.
Fast forward another six months. Sweden had edged Italy for a World Cup spot at the San Siro and were now entering the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium to play South Korea. The whole nation stood proud and humble to what they had achieved, and it was time to enjoy participating in a World Cup. Even if it is reduced to three group games, we still made the damn party! South Korea were beaten. Germany needed a moment of magic from Toni Kroos to beat us, and Mexico got torn to pieces. Sweden finished first in Group F and were through to the round of sixteen? This was the best summer ever. A team to be proud of, a manager that oozed of winning mentality and a bloody round of sixteens game to enjoy – it was all too good to be true.
Before anyone could say “Janne Andersson for president” Sweden had brushed aside Switzerland like they weren’t even there. Sweden. Were. In. A. Quarter. Final. At. The. World. Cup. If you would have told me that during the 2016 qualifications I would have laughed in your face. Well, Sweden somehow did it and in the midst of the recent triumphs, the humble and grateful Sweden didn’t exist anymore. We were going to go for it. The recent adrenaline and stressful situations weakened not only the memory, but also the humility.
We all know what happened in that quarter-final. It was a painful one. If I have to compare the feeling, it felt like putting down your dog at the vet. A slow, undramatic sad end to a relationship filled with happy memories – a protracted and inevitable goodbye. All the beautiful memories were foggy or completely washed away when that final whistle blew. All that the memory was able to recall were the missed opportunities and an awful Swedish performance.
I am writing this to remind myself, and any other Swede that suffers from football memory amnesia, that we should stand prouder than ever. We have ruthlessly rebuffed the Netherlands, Italy and Germany from achieving all that we did. Embrace Andersson’s non existent lips, Andreas Granqvist’s dodgy hairline and his penalties. Try to remember the strangers you have hugged, the smiles you’ve exchanged and the pride we’ve all felt. They will last a lifetime.