Granqvist welcomes baby, preps for England at World Cup

SAMARA, Russia — Even though Andreas Granqvist has a lot going on right now, he claims he’s not overwhelmed.

The Sweden captain welcomed his baby daughter from afar early Friday while his team gets ready for its World Cup quarterfinal match against England on Saturday.

“I just try to enjoy it,” he said with a grin. “I just try to be present, in the now.”

Granqvist and his wife Sofie each posted photos of the newborn, named Mika, although Granqvist used a hashtag: #worldcupbaby.

“Good timing. I didn’t sleep very well last night, so I’m glad that it’s happened now,” he said Friday after the early morning birth. “My wife did a wonderful job back home. Everything went well.”

Indeed the timing couldn’t have been better.

Now rather than stress about the arrival of his second child, Granqvist can focus his full attention on guiding Sweden to what the team hopes is its first trip to the World Cup semifinals since 1994. The Swedes have made it to the final once, at home back in 1958, falling to Pele and Brazil.

Granqvist, a 33-year-old centre back, has played in Russia for Krasnodar for the past five years, but he will join Helsingborg, a second-tier team in his native Sweden, following the World Cup.

Known by his nickname Granen, Granqvist is part of a stout defence that has been Sweden’s strength in Russia. The team has conceded only two goals so far in the tournament, both in the group stage against defending champion Germany.

It’s part of a team-first strategy as Sweden moves past the Zlatan Ibrahimovic era.

Ibrahimovic, the all-time leading scorer for Sweden, retired from international soccer in 2016 but still plays at club level for the LA Galaxy. There was talk in the run-up to the World Cup that he might be willing to play for the national team, but ultimately coach Janne Andersson decided to go forward without him.

“We’re a team, we do this together on and off the pitch, and this has meant that we’ve been as successful as we have so far,” Granqvist said. “We might not have on paper the best team or individually, but together we’re very high achievers.”

So far the recipe has worked in Russia. After finishing at the top of its group, the Swedes beat Switzerland in the knockout round 1-0. If they can get past England, they’ll face the winner of Saturday’s match between Russia and Croatia.

“I think there was a coach who said about his team once, ‘They’re quite easy to analyze and quite difficult to beat.’ I think that’s a good description for us,” Andersson said.

England and Sweden have met twice previously in World Cup play, a 2-2 draw in 2006 and a 1-1 draw in 2002. Overall, Sweden has gone undefeated in 13 of the last 15 matches.

Andersson agreed with his captain that Sweden’s strength is its unity.

“We’re in Day 45 now together. And even I will have a bad day sometimes. And then you go to your room for a little rest and you come back with new energy and you can contribute to the team,” Andersson said. “They’ve been extraordinary in how they’ve done it.”

___

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press

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