By Philip O'Connor
KIEV (Reuters) - Sweden suffered the curse of many smaller teams at Euro 2012 when injuries to key players forced their coach's hand and try as he might Erik Hamren could not find a solution.
Defeats in the opening two games ended the Swedes' hopes of progressing in the tournament and a 2-0 victory over a below-par French side in the final match was not enough to make up for the disappointment of failing to reach the knockout stages.
Hamren will need to add more defensive nous and tactical ruthlessness to his team's armory if they are going to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Most of the problems were caused by injuries to key players who had taken Sweden to the finals and Hamren had trouble working out how to cope without them.
Johan Elmander's fractured foot was a huge blow for the attack but it was the loss of centre back Daniel Majstorovic to a serious knee injury that caused the biggest problem.
After nine appearances in qualifying, the absence of Majstorovic robbed Hamren of a dominant aggressive presence at the back and forced him to reshuffle his pack.
When he did so, Sweden began leaking soft goals at set pieces, and the confidence of a makeshift back four ebbed away.
With Mikael Lustig hardly playing for Celtic after joining from Rosenborg, Andreas Granqvist was given a run at right back in the friendlies, only to be shunted into the centre against Ukraine.
Despite his imposing aerial presence, Jonas Olsson was dropped to the bench for the opening game and the result was an unsettled defense which never clicked and was especially vulnerable at corners and free kicks.
John Guidetti's absence due to a virus was compounded when Elmander fractured a metatarsal bone in his right foot and despite his best efforts to get fit, Hamren was suddenly short of options up front.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic given a free role, Hamren lacked a predatory finisher, and yet Sweden still took the lead in both opening games at Euro 2012.
Ibra put them 1-0 up against Ukraine and they went 2-1 ahead against England thanks to Olof Mellberg. But rather than play cagey, the Swedes continued to attack and threw away both leads before losing the games.
Despite two excellent goals, Ibra failed once again to ignite against English opposition when his team needed him most. His best effort came with a superb acrobatic volley against France when the Swedes had nothing to play for except pride.
Hamren may have made mistakes that cost his side dearly, but he is keen to stay in the job and the Swedish Football Association is not the kind of organization to act in haste.
The team is still a work in progress but with Ibra set to continue in the national side and the youthful Guidetti itching to make his mark, Hamren boasts good attacking options.
Germany will be favorites to win Sweden's World Cup qualifying group but with Ireland not the force they once were Hamren will fancy his chances of leading his side to another major tournament.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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