Sweden scripted a sensational upset to keep their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup alive, beating France 2-1 on Friday night in a game which had a couple of cracking goals, with Olivier Giroud’s 37th-minute volley the pick of them.
France, topping their World Cup qualifying Group with 13 points from five games, were heavy favourites to beat Sweden, but despite taking the lead and having a glittering starting XI at their disposal, allowed the hosts to come back into the tie.
Didier Deschamps sent Les Blues out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Arsenal man Giroud leading the line after scoring a hat-trick in France’s international friendly against Paraguay earlier in the week. Alongside him was Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet and somewhat surprisingly, Moussa Sissoko. Monaco hot-shot Kylian Mbappe had to settle for a place on the bench but with Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi in midfield, along with Raphael Varane and Hugo Lloris ensured that France had plenty of stars in their line up.
Sweden, second in the group, were in a 4-4-2 formation and while they didn't have any stars in their team save, perhaps, Benfica defender Vitor Lindelof and Red Bull Leipzig Winger Emil Forsberg, they gave a good account of themselves in the opening stages.
Understandably, France had the majority of the possession but Sweden looked dangerous on the counter and it became evident early on that the tie would be an end-to-end one.
Left-back Benjamin Mendy was lively on the wing, showcasing what all the fuss around him was about and sent in a sizzling cross for Giroud, but the forward’s header went wide of the post.
The next time he got the ball in the box, however, the 30-year-old striker more than made amends. Controlling a bouncing ball just with his leg, he unleashed a left-footed volley which flew into the far corner to leave Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen completely stranded in the 37th minute.
Sweden didn't take long to respond, hitting back via Jummy Durmaz six minute later. The winger was unmarked in the box and when Ludwig Augustinsson’s cross came his way, he lashed home. The man tasked with marking him, Dimitri Payet, had been found guilty of ball-watching inside his own penalty area and France paid the price.
That goal proved to be crucial as the momentum was clearly with the hosts at half-time. They upped the tempo in the second period but France weren't out of the game and had a few chances of their own, but a resolute Olsen was keeping them at bay.
Pogba, on one end, came close to getting France what would have been a killer goal but his curling shot flew wide of the post with Olsen well beaten for once.
On the other end, Durmaz almost doubled his tally for the night when his cross-shot almost caught Lloris in the France goal offguard. Jakob Johansson then almost scored a scorcher from distance, but his booming shot was inches off target but France couldn't ride their luck forever and Sweden’s persistence paid off in the 94th minute.
Llorsi, as is his wont, came out to clear but the ball found its way to Ola Toivoven on the half-way line. The Swedish forward hit the rolling ball and while a despairing Lloris scrambled to get back in time, the ball beat him to the goal with some time to spare.
A dramatic winner for a pulsating game and Sweden fully deserved the win, which now puts them on top of their group with 13 points from six games. France have the same number of points but Sweden’s superior goal difference gives them the edge.