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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Larsson lights up Lisbon

By Phil McNulty
Our man in Portugal

Henrik Larsson
Henrik Larsson made 140,000 signatures and a personal request from the Swedish Prime Minister - but most of all a plea from young son Jordan - all worthwhile in the space of 60 seconds in Lisbon.

Larsson's brilliant quickfire double put Sweden out of sight of Bulgaria and was a personal thanks for the faith of a nation united in tempting a hero back to international football.

It also showed why Barcelona are the 30th club to have demonstrated a serious interest in signing Larsson on a free transfer by finally making him an offer on Monday.

Larsson, who decided to leave Celtic at the end of last season, was returning to Sweden colours after a two-year exile - broken only by one emergency appearance against Hungary in a qualifier.

And he was doing it backed by the weight of an entire country that gathered behind a sporting icon to achieve what Celtic found impossible - make Larsson change his mind.

So when he brilliantly headed his first and Sweden's second on 56 minutes, then followed it up with a trademark far-post finish almost instantly, Larsson had repaid his country's faith and Sweden's effort had borne fruit.

Swedish premier Goeran Persson was one of the signatories to a petition organised by a national newspaper and was joined by other politicians and sporting stars, who were determined to make Larsson come out of exile.

Uefa president Lennart Johansson even set impartiality aside to appeal to his fellow countryman to return.

And when Larsson finally succumbed and agreed to return after his son said he wanted to see his father playing for Sweden, the country celebrated.

But not as much as they did inside the Estadio Alvalade on a sweltering Monday evening.

Larsson eased himself back in during the first half, an intelligent run here and a swift link-up there.

I can't imagine a better way to make my comeback
Henrik Larsson
But after the break he was devastating, with Sweden's attacking triumvirate of Larsson, Freddie Ljungberg and the maverick, but hugely-gifted, Zlatan Ibrahimovic illuminating Euro 2004.

Larsson also proved himself the perfect team player, handing over penalty-taking duties to Ibrahimovic, who made Ljungberg's opener.

He passed up his chance of his hat-trick in that moment but still found time to play a perfectly-lofted pass for Marcus Allback to score in injury time and crown a comprehensive and highly-entertaining win.

Larsson even retreated into a defensive midfield role at a dangerous Sweden free-kick in the dying minutes to ensure that Bulgaria did not have any opportunity to add respectability to the scoreline.

He shrugged off the heat to look supremely quick and sharp, lasting the pace with an ease that belied his 32 years.

Larsson was later modesty itself as he took all the accolades - putting team first and setting aside his own achievements - the sort of words they have heard hundreds of times before in Glasgow.

It was also an emphatic answer to those who said that while Larsson might be able to knock over Motherwell and Dunfermline in his sleep, his unique brand of goalscoring would not travel well outside the confines of the Scottish Premier League.

As celebrating Swedes poured out into the streets around the home of Sporting Lisbon they were joined by Celtic fans who had also come pay homage to the hero of Parkhead who made a tearful exit at the end of another championship season.

Sweden's wishes were answered in Lisbon on Monday - as King Henrik delivered a performance that suggested those who have made his side dark horses for Euro 2004 may have a point.





Links to more Sweden stories


 

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