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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Perfect timing for Swedes
By Mike Burnett

Sweden striker Henrik Larsson
Larsson's return has been a big boost for Sweden
Sweden have every reason to be excited ahead of the European Championship in Portugal.

With Henrik Larsson back in the line-up to partner Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the days of defend first, attack later could be well and truly over.

In fact, there might never be a better time for the Scandanavian side to progress, but balance will be the key.

"It's an important thing for Sweden," said former Sweden midfielder Niclas Alexandersson.

"We've been strong in defence, but now we have a more attacking line-up, so we need to get the balance."

Certainly, the return of Larsson has been a coup for joint managers Tommy Soderberg and Lars Lagerback.

The talismanic forward quit international football after the last World Cup, where he scored three goals, but recently changed his mind after pressure at home.

We can beat any country on the day
Niclas Alexandersson
Former Sweden midfielder
The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet gained more than 110,000 signatures, including those of the country's prime minister, Göran Persson, and Uefa president Lennart Johansson, in a petition calling for his return.

The Uefa president also made a personal plea to Larsson, saying: "He knows all of us in Sweden want him to be in Portugal. I told him then he was wanted by his country and I also wrote him a personal letter."

The very public campaign has paid off and Larsson's addition gives the team a very real chance of reaching the last eight and the Soderberg-Lagerback partnership an opportunity to end on a high.

After five years of managing the side together, football's odd couple is due to split after the finals when Soderberg will step down.

Certainly, the coaching duo have plenty to work with in a side which also boasts the likes of influential Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and Aston Villa's Olaf Mellberg.

Other players such as midfielders Christian Wilhelmsson at Anderlecht and Kim Kallstrom at Stade Rennes add to the mix with their more South European style of football .

Alexandersson in action against Argentina at the last World Cup
Alexandersson believes a win against Denmark is crucial
But many Swedes know they should not get too carried away about their team's chances.

After all, this is only the first time the team have qualified for three major championships in a row after Euro 2000 and the last World Cup.

"Before a championship, expectations always rise, but not many expect Sweden to win the whole thing," added Alexandersson, who now plays at IFK Gothenberg.

"We can beat any country on the day, but in the World Cup and European Championships there are no easy teams."

That is certainly true of their group, which contains Italy, Latvia and Scandanavian rivals Denmark, who many see as a potential stumbling block.

Alexandersson said: "It's the last game in the group - it's a decider. I would say the standard of Danish team is very similar to Sweden, although they are a much more technical side.

"There's always a bit of extra passion when we play against Denmark or Norway, but it's not like Scotland and England. If they play someone else, we don't want them to lose."





Links to more Sweden stories


 

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