BERNE – Sweden or Switzerland? One goal, one penalty, one goal post, or one wrong pass could decide the fate of these two teams in the 2009 IIHF World Championship. A three-point win could secure a quarterfinal berth for the winning team and destroy the hopes of the other.
There’s a very small probability that both “Sw-teams” will make it. (It could actually happen in some scenarios if Team USA doesn’t get a point in the last game against Switzerland.)
“A win against Sweden will be enough for the quarterfinals, and we want to do it so badly for the world-class fans here,” Swiss head coach Ralph Krueger explains. “That’s why we didn’t practise on Friday. We just had an off-ice practice. Now it's May, and we hope that the new month will be a better month. Thanks to the last-minute point against Latvia, we have a realistic chance. We will continue to play with bravery.”
Krueger blames himself for the loss to Latvia, but also the players. Especially the Swiss offence, which has been one of the most inefficient in this tournament, converting on just 4.43 percent of its shots. “Some players will have to get dirty goals if they can't score with beautiful plays,” Krueger says. “We cannot think that we can play offence like the Russians. We 'died in beauty' against Latvia.” Against both Latvia and Russia, Switzerland clearly outshot the opposition.
The Sunday match-up against Sweden will be a key game for both teams. These are two teams that meet each other on a regular basis. Last year in Quebec City, the Swiss edged the Swedes 4-2. However, usually Tre Kronor prevails. They blanked Krueger’s team 6-0 in Moscow in 2007. And they also typically win the important games, prevailing 6-2 in the 2006 Olympics quarterfinals in Turin, 2-1 in their 2005 World Championship quarterfinal clash in Innsbruck, and 4-1 and 7-2 in the best-of-two semi-finals in Zurich in 1998.
Also, when you take a deeper look at World Championship history, things look promising for the Swedes. Only once did they miss a top-eight placement. And that was in 1937 in London, England.
Consequently, the upcoming game is a delicate affair for the young Swedish team. So delicate that no comment was made the day after the defeat to Russia. Head coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson wants to prepare his team in an atmosphere of calm.
“I think it will be 50-50, although Sweden has more potential and a higher hockey culture,” says John Slettvoll, who knows both sides well. He enjoyed a coaching career both in the highest Swedish (Björklöven Umeå) and Swiss leagues (Lugano), and was also the national team coach of Switzerland in the 1990s. He's in Berne working for Swiss TV, and has great respect for the Swiss team: “They've showed that they can play smart and keep up with the big teams.”
Krueger versus Gustafsson is a clash between two friends. Gustafsson played under Krueger in Feldkirch when the Austrian club sensationally won the European Hockey League title in 1998, and he was Krueger’s assistant with the Swiss national team before he went back to Sweden. One could say Krueger is Gustafsson's master. But it could also be seen the other way around.
“Gustafsson was an absolute high-calibre player for Krueger and Feldkirch, and I think that he rather inspired Krueger,” Slettvoll says.
However, Slettvoll wouldn’t bet on that young Tre Kronor team. “The team is weaker than usual, and many players are not ready for the World Championship,” says Slettvoll. “You have multiple responsibilities in a national team. About seven or eight rookies are not very confident, and that's a challenge for every coach. There are misunderstandings on defence, and on offence they lose the puck too fast and allow the other team breakaways. The team sometimes looks divided up like an accordion.”
Gustafsson or Krueger? Who will congratulate whom on Sunday?