When Gustav Svensson finalized his transfer to the Seattle Sounders, it seemed all but certain that his days with the Swedish national team had reached an end. The midfielder had not been called up since two days after his previous transfer to the Chinese Super League’s Guangzhou R&F.
When the Swede turned 30 a week after joining the Sounders, he figured his days in the Blue and Gold were done.
“When I moved here to Seattle, I almost left the thought about the national team,” Svensson told SoundersFC.com before leaving for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Sweden began its campaign Monday morning against South Korea.
It’s not hard to understand Svensson’s mindset. He’d made only six previous appearances for Sweden, stretching back to 2009. Even in Seattle, Svensson was initially considered a depth signing to fill out the Sounders’ bench.
After an early injury to Sounders teammate Osvaldo Alonso, however, Svensson wound up making 30 regular-season appearances for Seattle in 2017 and his versatility at both holding midfield and centerback earned the attention of Sweden boss Janne Andersson.
By August 2017, Svensson found himself back on the national team for World Cup qualifiers, seeing time as a substitute in matches against Belarus and the Netherlands.
Still, his greatest moment in the qualifying run came in the second leg of the UEFA knockout round. Leading Italy 1-0 on aggregate after the first leg, Svensson was tapped to sub on at the San Siro after just 19 minutes for an injured Jakob Johansson. Svensson and Sweden held on for a 0-0 draw, causing Italy to miss its first World Cup in 60 years.
Now, Svensson feels surviving Group F with Germany, Mexico and South Korea will be a tough but attainable challenge for Sweden.
“As a team, I think going through the first group round is what everybody expects us to do, or hopes for us to do,” Svensson said. “It’s always different when you have one country that is much better than the others. That game against Germany will be hard. It’s not just about us, you need luck to have a good result against that kind of team. The other games will be more about what we can do. How we can break them down and adjust to have a good result against Mexico and South Korea.”
As for Svensson, he is still most likely to see time off the bench as a substitute if Sweden has a late lead and wants to put another capable defender on to the pitch.
It’s hard to say (what my role will be),” Svensson said. “For me, individually, of course I would love to play as many minutes as possible. But if I don’t, I’m going to be supportive and make sure my teammates are as ready as possible.”
Svensson’s tenacity and commitment to defending is what got him rapidly included into Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders side, where he made himself indispensable. If Andersson’s Sweden finds itself in need of a similar player, Svensson’s adaptability may offer him a chance to live every player’s dream and contribute at the World Cup.
“It’s a weird feeling that you’re ready to do everything you can,” Svensson said. “You’re ready to run until you die for your team. But of course, it’s going to be even more when you play for your national team, when you play in the World Cup and you know the entire world is watching and you know how much it means for the country and for your teammates and for everyone around the team. It’s a great feeling, so hopefully I’m not too nervous. Hopefully that turns into ambition and motivation.”