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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Larsson's thirst for more
Henrik Larsson celebrates yet another goal for Celtic
Celtic's opponents know Larsson's celebration

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Thirty months ago, Sweden's Henrik Larsson grimaced in agony as he was stretchered off the field not knowing if he would play football again.

Celtic's modest, skillful striker had suffered a serious leg break in a Uefa cup tie against Lyon and - at that point - his future looked bleak.

It is testament to Larsson's spirit and talent that such a terrible injury is now an almost-forgotten interlude in a career which has, quite simply, produced goals, goals, and more goals.

And Sweden's World Cup opponents should know they ignore the man nicknamed 'Henke' at their peril.

Larsson factfile:
Signs for Celtic from Feyenoord for 650,000 in July 1997
Scored 115 goals in 147 appearances for the Bhoys
Scored 21 goals in 66 appearances for Sweden

His distinctive dreadlocks may have vanished - but his trademark tongue-out grin after he bags each goal is constant. And the legions of defenders on the receiving end grows by the week.

After Larsson returned from his injury he soon proved his class, scoring 35 league goals for Celtic, and lifting Europe's Golden Shoe award - previously held by the likes of Eusebio, Gerd Mueller and Ronaldo.

Nevertheless, a question mark still remains over Sweden's golden boy.

Some say Larsson cannot be held in the same esteem as Henry, Owen, Totti or Raul because he has never proved himself consistently at the highest level.

That doubt will always remain for as long as 'McLarsson' continues to play in the Scottish Premier League.

Celtic boss Martin O'Neill says his striker is 'world class', and 115 goals in 147 appearances is an impressive statistic.

But it is beyond question that terrorising opposition such as Kilmarnock, Dundee, Hibernian and Motherwell will not win you much kudos on the world stage.

Nevertheless, eight goals in Sweden's 10 World Cup qualifying games proves Larsson is not fazed by the international arena.

Henrik Larsson in action for Sweden against Slovakia
Larsson scored eight goals in Sweden's qualifying campaign

Equally worrying for England, Nigeria and Argentina - who face Sweden in the 'Group of Death' in Japan - are the signs that the Scandinavian outfit are recapturing the form which took them to third place in USA 1994.

Notoriously difficult to score against, Larsson's cutting edge adds an extra dimension to Sweden's threat.

Still, perhaps more than any other side, England should be aware of the threat posed by Henke.

His scoring exploits for Celtic are more documented in the British Isles than anywhere else in Europe.

And if England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is not well-briefed on his compatriot's skills, then no-one is.

The Swedes will no doubt be wary of England's talents when the two nations get their campaigns underway in Saitama on 2 June.

But England's fans, management, and especially their defenders, would be foolish not to expect a tongue-lashing from Sweden's ice-cool marksman.

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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1

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