ST PETERSBURG - At some point, people might have to stop being surprised at Sweden’s progress. Written off at the start of qualification, they elbowed out the Netherlands on their way to a play-off against Italy. Nobody gave them a chance in that contest but, once again, they found a way to win.

Spool forward to the finals and did anyone have them down to emerge from a group that contained Germany and Mexico? They did, finishing on top of it. Germany had become their latest big-name scalp. Football fans would not necessarily put Switzerland alongside the Netherlands, Italy and Germany in terms of Europe’s powerhouses but Vladimir Petkovic’s team do sit sixth in the Fifa world rankings. They entered this last 16 collision as the third highest ranked nation left in the World Cup.

Sweden advanced on the back of a moment of good fortune but nobody could say they did not deserve it. Emil Forsberg, the game’s most eye-catching player, took a pass inside from the left and he dropped his shoulder to elude Granit Xhaka.

The shooting chance had opened up but Forsberg rather scraped the effort, hitting it low in the direction of the Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who looked set to collect. Then, fate intervened. The ball squirted off Manuel Akanji and flew into the top corner.

Sweden might have added to their advantage in stoppage-time when the substitute Martin Olsson was pushed by the chasing Michael Lang as he ran clean through. Initially the referee, Damir Skomina, signalled for a penalty but it was pulled back upon VAR to a free-kick. The offence had taken place just outside the area. Lang was sent off and Ola Toivonen’s free-kick was saved by Sommer. It did not matter.

Sweden were the more proactive team and the bulk of the clearest chances were created by them. It was yet another triumph for Janne Andersson and the collective – in the truest sense – that he has put together.

Switzerland did not perform to anything like their level as they missed out on the opportunity to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1954. They pushed in the final 10 minutes or so but it was too little, too late. The substitute Breel Embolo saw a header blocked on the line by Forsberg – who else? – while Robin Olsen kept out a header from another substitute, Haris Seferovic. It was the only time he was seriously extended.

Switzerland had started with a patch-up backline, owing to the suspensions of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar, and a key question concerned whether their replacements, Lang and Johan Djourou, would be sufficiently solid.

Sweden wanted to find out straight away and they had a few early flickers, although one of them was sparked by a loose clearance from Sommer. The ball was returned immediately by Albin Ekdal and Marcus Berg had a sliver of space. He was quickly closed down and his shot was blocked. On the rebound, Ekdal drove high.

Moments earlier, Toivonen’s lovely flick had released Berg. The strikers have played together on various teams since the age of 14 and their understanding stood to be key. Berg was through to the right of centre; the angle not straightforward but inviting. He sliced wastefully.

Sweden’s togetherness and consistency had driven them this far. It is not a secret as to how they will play; the problem is how to stop them. They were by far the more threatening team in the first half and, when they went in at 0-0, the worry for them was that they might live to regret their lack of cutting edge.

Berg forced Sommer into a diving save with a nicely executed side-on shot – the goalkeeper was at full stretch before he clawed the ball away with his fingertips – but the big chance fell to Ekdal on 40 minutes. Gustav Svensson, who came in for the suspended Sebastian Larsson, won a tackle high up the pitch and he worked the ball wide for Mikael Lustig.

The right-back, who was booked for a pull on Josip Drmic to incur a suspension, crossed deep and nobody had tracked the run of Ekdal. He was perfectly placed and he elected to measure a side-foot volley only to get it all wrong. The ball ballooned high and Ekdal sank to the ground in dismay.

Switzerland have made a habit of starting games badly at this tournament and they offered precious little as an attacking force in the first half. They lacked aggression and their attacking players could not spark. They quickened the pulse only once when Blerim Dzemaili swapped passes with Steven Zuber, getting a lovely low cut-back return, only to blast his first-time shot over the crossbar.

Forsberg is perhaps Sweden’s only star name and the wide midfielder showcased his touch and quick feet. He had several nice moments, including one shortly after half-time when he wriggled away from the referee, who had got himself into a bad position, before beating Valon Behrami and Dzemaili. The Sweden fans roared. The move ended up with Toivonen shooting wildly.

Forsberg looked the most likely player to unpick the stalemate and so it proved. Petkovic sent on Embolo and Seferovic in an attacking move but it was not Switzerland’s day. They depart with regrets. Sweden march on.