Sweden’s Mikael Lustig (from left), Ludwig Augustinsson, Gustav Svensson, Marcus Berg, Victor Lindeloef and Sam Larsson celebrate after the win over Italy. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Former Swedish footballer Christian Wilhelmsson has reiterated that each and every member of the current national squad “deserves utmost respect and gratitude” for their contribution in qualifying for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.

Easily one of the more successful national teams in the history of the Fifa World Cup — having reached four semi-finals while becoming runners-up on home ground way back in 1958 — Sweden made it to the World Cup in Russia next year after dumping Italy in the European play-offs, earlier this week.

This week’s achievement marked a record 12th appearance for Sweden in the 20 Worlds Cups organised so far starting with the first one in 1930. However, the Scandinavian nation failed to make it to Brazil in 2014 after falling to current European champions Portugal in their two-legged play-off.

Starting without the services of their talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Janne Andersson-coached squad overcame Italy 1-0 on aggregate.

“There is no doubt that Zlatan has quality. But for the moment it is important that we respect the team that just made it to a World Cup through sheer hard work and being together as one unit,” Wilhelmsson said at the launch of the second edition of the Dubai Sports Council Football Academies Championships.

“We don’t have any stars, but we have a team that can fight and win and they have proved themselves by defeating teams such as Poland and France and now against Italy. The results speak for themselves and it is the players who should get all the credit now.

“Perhaps, in the later stages or as we approach the World Cup, the coach can start to look at the set-up and see which players need to be included so that the best travel to Russia and represent Sweden. But for now I would rather talk about this team who made it and who they are and what they did.

Nicknamed ‘Chippen’, Wilhelmsson turns 38 early next month. During his more than 10 years with the national squad he has played 79 times for his country including the 2006 World Cup in Germany and three European Championships.

At a later stage of his professional career, Wilhelmsson played briefly with Bani Yas in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal prior to that. He felt that a load of expectations are now on the shoulders of the present team. “Anything can happen for a team like this,” he said. “They worked hard as they wanted it that bad for themselves and for the country. That’s what this team was about — hard-working and doing this thing together as a unit. In the end it was the team that made it, and not just one player.

“They work so much for each other and they are so unified as a group. If they have their fitness and there are no injuries then I think we have a chance of a least going past the group stages, and after that it all depends on one match at a time. They just need to stay together and work even more hard to achieve their goals and anything can happen.

“For sure Sweden will not play the most beautiful football, but we can have some good results. I truly believe in that. Also, there are no stars, and maybe this group needs the stars. But these stars will need to work with the group.”