On rainy childhood days I used to love playing Master Mind. On an initially rainy Kyiv day, I feel I’m playing it again. In the board game, one player has pegs of six different colours that he arranges in four positions and conceals behind a screen. Instead of plastic pegs, the guessing game this time regards the Swedish back line.
Veteran Olof Mellberg is the only one of the Sweden defenders who can be sure of starting their UEFA EURO 2012 opener. The three other positions are anybody’s guess. And Erik Hamrén, like any good Master Mind player, has kept us doing just that – guessing.
In the recent friendly against Iceland, Mellberg’s partner in central defence was Jonas Olsson, with Behrang Safari as left-back and Andreas Granqvist on the right. A week later, Hamrén rearranged his pegs – sorry, defenders – in three positions out of four. Mellberg now had Granqvist beside him in the centre, Martin Olsson was the left-back and Mikael Lustig the right-back.
The reason behind it is not mind games, though. Had Lustig not had an injury-ridden six months behind him, he would have been a sure starter at right-back. And had Daniel Majstorovic not injured his knee, he would have been Mellberg’s obvious central partner. Martin Olsson also looked a sure starter before recent groin problems left the door ajar for Safari.
The one thing all of the defenders have in common is that they haven’t played a minute of final tournament football between them. Except for Mellberg, of course, about to earn a 115th Sweden cap against Ukraine.
Just like in Master Mind, the combinations open to Hamrén seem infinite. Oh wait, I admit that’s an exaggeration. In the board game, one colour can be used in several positions. In football, Erik Hamrén can only use Olof Mellberg in one.