KIEV, Ukraine – Sweden players ended up talking about the bare backside of their backup goalkeeper rather than soccer tactics on Wednesday.
Some members of the squad responded to criticism for using Johan Wiland's exposed behind for target practice after a training session. Team members dismissed as harmless horsing around among friends, but it was decried as bullying by critics who said it set a bad example for kids.
After Tuesday's training session for players who didn't start in the loss against Ukraine, a group of seven players and assistant coach Marcus Allback stood in a circle playing a game of keeping the ball in the air. Wiland lost, and as punishment he had to walk over to a nearby wall, pull down his shorts and turn his backside toward his teammates. They then took turns aiming balls at him from about 20 yards away.
That part of training was not open to media, but was filmed by a crew from Swedish newspaper Expressen and shown on its website.
It drew a sharp rebuke from a Swedish anti-bullying organization that sponsors the team's national stadium, but several of the players said the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.
"It's just a game," midfielder Pontus Wernbloom said. "It's not bullying if everyone wants to take part."
Defender Martin Olsson said such games often take place during training, and that he's also been the target of teammates' shots several times.
"It's just a fun thing," Olsson said. "We've been doing this since we were 12."
However, not everyone was amused.
Lars Arrhenius, the general secretary for anti-bullying organization Friends — whose name will be on the new national soccer stadium in Stockholm — told Expressen the players were being "incredibly bad role models."
"They're heroes for thousands of boys and girls all over Sweden and I don't think they should send the signal that this is OK," Arrhenius said. "This is the kind of stuff that happens in schools and sports clubs, that people use these types of 'games.' But there are some children who get exposed in those situations."
Even the prime minister weighed in on the issue, taking his own shot at the players.
"People who carry expectations should be aware of that, and act accordingly," Fredrik Reinfeldt said.
Wernbloom, in turn, criticized some Swedish fans and media back home for making defender Mikael Lustig the butt of jokes after he was partially at fault for Ukraine's second goal in the co-host's 2-1 win on Monday.
Lustig was supposed to guard the near post at a corner but was out of position, allowing Andriy Shevchenko to sneak a header into the spot where the defender was meant to be placed. That led to an online campaign on some social media networks called "Hold a post," with dozens of Swedish fans uploading photos of themselves holding on to lamp posts, sign posts, telephone poles and pillars of all sorts.
"I think that's bullying," Wernbloom said. "But Lustig takes it coolly and is just laughing about it."