If the World Cup isn’t a World Cup without Zlatan, then Sweden doesn’t have a World Cup team. That’s because when head coach Janne Andersson announced his 23-man roster May 14, the Zlatan was noticeably absent, especially after he announced on U.S. television that he would in fact go the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Andersson, leading his first campaign in the world’s most prestigious sporting event, selected a team once more that has few stars but that is, in fact, a better team without Zlatan than with him. Andersson made it clear at the end of April that Zlatan would have to reach out to the Swedish Football Association if he wanted to play for Sweden in Russia. Zlatan, in a nationally televised interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, however, made it clear he expected Andersson to come to him. In the end, Sweden has a team that surprised the football world by reaching the finals through the playoffs, where it beat Italy to make it to Russia.


The full team is:
Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea).
Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnador), Martin Olsson (Swansea), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Filip Helander, Emil Krafth (both Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds United).
Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson (Hull), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Viktor Claesson (Krasnador), Marcus Rohden (Crotone), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse).
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren).

Zlatan, who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in U.S.-based Major League Soccer, Andersson and FA boss Lars Richt did in fact speak at the end of April, saying Zlatan himself ruled out a return to the national team fold. “I talked to Zlatan,” Richt said at a press conference. “He announced he did not change his mind about the national team – it is no.”

The Swedish side is notably lacking any major star, which has made the locker room a much more unified place. Team spirit is one of the main strength of Andersson’s squad. Its biggest drawback is a reliance on many players that do not feature in the starting XI of their club teams. Of the five players making their living in Serie A in Italy, none is a starter. The lack of a star, however, did not faze Andersson.

“The basic idea is to not worry about that,” Andersson said. “When it comes to playing, preparing and selecting a squad, we want the players who will make an impact and be together.”

Andersson picked six British-based players, including Manchester United center-back Victor Lindelof, who experienced substantial growing pains after moving to the Premier League. A pair of Swansea players, center-back Martin Olsson and goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt are in the team along with Hull midfielder Sebastian Larsson and Leeds United defender Pontus Jansson.

One notable absence is Jakob Johansson, who scored the goal against Italy that sent Sweden to the World Cup. Johansson, a midfielder with AEK Athens, has yet to recover from a serious knee injury he sustained in November. Andersson tabbed Gustav Svensson of the Seattle Sounders in MLS to replace him.

Emil Forsberg is the team’s primary playmaking engine and is one of eight midfielders Andersson selected. Forsberg currently plays for Leipzig in the German Bundesliga, where his form has slipped considerably.

Sweden opens its campaign in Russia on June 18 against South Korea, a game it must win to have any chances of advancing. The Blagult also face defending World Champions Germany and Mexico, which has never failed to advance out of the group stage.

Chipp Reid