Switzerland forward Breel Embolo hopes to round off a dream week by securing a place in the World Cup quarter-finals when his country face Sweden in St Petersburg.
Embolo flew straight home from Switzerland’s 2-2 draw in their final Group E game against Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod to attend the birth of his daughter, who was born late on Thursday.
“It was perfect timing,” the Schalke youngster told reporters. “I went straight to the hospital from the airport and arrived just in time.
“I’m delighted. Naliya’s birth is by far the best present I’ve ever had in my life.
“Now, I hope I won’t be flying back to Switzerland any time soon. We still want to achieve something here in Russia.”
Embolo is yet to find the net in two substitute appearances and a start so far in Russia but could provide an alternative at centre-forward for head coach Vladimir Petkovic, where Haris Seferovic and Mario Gavranovic have both failed to impress. Josip Drmic pressed his own case by scoring against Costa Rica.
“Sweden are a strong team,” the 21-year-old said. “But we’ll be very well prepared. We’ll give it our all to get to the quarter-finals.
“Two years ago, we lost to Poland in the last 16 at Euro 2016. We learned from that. The fact we’ve been able to come from behind twice here in Russia shows we’re ready for more.”
Sweden will be without Sebastian Larsson through suspension, meaning a possible start for Gustav Svensson in midfield, while Switzerland are without defensive duo Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar after they picked up two bookings apiece in the group stage.
In a game that does not necessarily promise the level of entertainment value provided so far during the knockout stages, Sweden boss Janne Andersson expects his forwards to lead the defensive effort from the front.
“The starting point is that every player on the pitch is a defender,” he told a news conference.
“It’s what Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen personify the most, with the work they do.
“Then we relate to each other and not to where the opponents are. We don’t run to chase our opponents.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sweden – Emil Forsberg
Sweden’s closest approximation of a bona fide star after Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the international stage, skilful RB Leipzig playmaker Forsberg is yet to bring his best form to the World Cup. It would be the perfect time to find it.
Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri
The winger’s late winner in the emotionally charged group-stage victory over Serbia provided one of the moments of Russia 2018 so far. An explosive game-changer on his day, Shaqiri might be the man to break open what is expected to be a tight contest.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Eleven of Switzerland’s last 14 goals at the World Cup have been scored in the second-half, including four out of five at this year’s tournament.
– Between them, Emil Forsberg and Marcus Berg have had 21 of Sweden’s 37 shots at the 2018 World Cup (57 per cent) without scoring any of them.
– Since Switzerland reached the quarter-finals at World Cup 1954, Xherdan Shaqiri is the only Swiss player to have scored in the knockout stages of a major tournament – at Euro 2016 against Poland.
– This will be Sweden’s 50th game at the World Cup, becoming the 11th team to reach that tally. Only Mexico have featured in more games without ever winning the tournament.