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WORLDCUP

Old boys hold key in Sweden opener

Sweden kick off their World Cup campaign against Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday with both teams pinning their hopes on two 34-year-olds looking to shine once more in the twilight of their careers.

The Swedes, tipped to qualify alongside England from Group B, will be buoyed by the evergreen Henrik Larsson who proved that he’s lost none of his magic with his supersub appearance for Barcelona in last month’s Champions League win.

Meanwhile, Dwight Yorke, a member of Manchester United’s 1999 treble-winning team is determined to make the most of the Caribbean side’s first appearance at the finals.

Swedish hopes meanwhile were hit a late blow when first choice goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson was ruled out of the game after being flattened by a shot in the face from team-mate Kim Källström.

Coach Lars Lagerbäck will have to choose between Viborg’s John Alvbåge and Fredrikstad’s Egyptian-born Rami Shabaan.

Twelve years have passed since a dreadlocked Larsson first came to prominence at USA 94, where Sweden surprised everyone by finishing third.

But though the dreadlocks have long since been lopped off, Larsson says he is every bit the player he was a decade ago, and is revelling in his decision to reverse his international retirement in 2004.

“I feel as fit now as I did ten years ago. The older I get the stronger I get,” said Larsson, the 2001 Golden Boot winner who has 34 international goals.

“The game against Trinidad & Tobago is very important for us and we must go out and do our very best. The goal must of course be that in the long run we can go all the way to the final. If you don’t think that then you don’t have anything to play for in a tournament like this.

“We are more or the less same players in the squad compared with four years ago which means more experience which is good for everyone in the squad.”

Trinidad and Tobago, better known as the home of cricket superstar Brian Lara than for its footballers, start the tournament as 1,000/1 outsiders and are seen as the whipping boys of the group which is made up by Paraguay.

They rely on a ragtag army of players drawn from leagues far and wide. Of their 23 players, only four ply their trade in the Caribbean so wily old coach Leo Beenhakker has pulled together men whose clubs are in England, Scotland, Wales and the United States.

But it is veteran attacker Yorke, once of Manchester United and now of Sydney in Australia, who will carry his country’s hopes into their debut appearance secured by a tough qualifying campaign, topped off by a play-off win against Bahrain.

“We are going to compete. We have a fifty-fifty chance like everybody else,” said Yorke of his team’s chances.

“We have been in situations where we were perhaps the better team and didn’t get the results. Its 11 versus 11 and we are in Germany with that mentality.”

FOOTBALL

Swedish press hails ‘miracle in Berlin’

Sweden's stunning four-goal comeback to salvage a 4-4 draw against Germany in Berlin on Tuesday night prompted commentators to gush over what many considered an improbable footballing "miracle".

Swedish press hails 'miracle in Berlin'

After an hour of football, Sweden found themselves nursing a four-goal deficit and many fans wondered how bad the night would end.

But a beautiful goal off a header by captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 62nd minute sparked an unprecedented comeback for the Swedes, capped by Rasmus Elm’s game-tying goal in extra time, allowing the squad to leave the pitch with an unexpected draw against a team ranked second in the world.

“I’ve never watched a national team that was so totally outplayed then comeback and salvage a point,” crowed Expressen columnist Marcus Birro.

“A miracle. A total Miracle. With a capital M.”

Birro argued that Sweden’s footballers deserved “the Nobel Prize in everything”, before reflecting on whether Tuesday’s performance might prompt largely secular Swedes to reexamine their religious beliefs.

“According to several studies, Swedes don’t believe in God. How is that possible? Can anyone who saw the miracle in Berlin seriously claim that God doesn’t exist?” he asked

Johan Esk, sports columnist at broadsheet Dagens Nyheter (DN), spared no hyperbole in claiming the 4-4 draw was “Sweden’s biggest upset in footballing history”.

“Sweden created a bomb that will be heard throughout the footballing world,” he continued.

“Sweden went from being outplayed, outclassed, laughable bystanders to shocking heroes.”

According to Esk, Sweden “taught Germany and the entire footballing world that it doesn’t matter what the score is or what name is on the back of the opponents’ shirts”.

“Those who give up never have a chance. Those who never give up always have a chance to succeed. No matter how awful things look,” he wrote.

A jubilant Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, captured on film in the stands pumping his fists in a fit of football euphoria while a dejected German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked on, also praised the performance of Sweden’s national side.

“It was totally improbable,” he told the TT news agency following the match.

“I don’t know if Germany has ever lost a four goal lead before in one half at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.”

Meanwhile, Erik Niva, football columnist with tabloid Aftonbladet took aim at German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s collapse, which saw the normally solid performer let in four goals in thirty minutes.

“On a normal day at work, Manuel Neuer exudes self-confidence. Now he couldn’t catch a beachball,” wrote Niva.

He hailed Sweden’s performance as “one of the most improbably I’ve experienced in my life with Swedish football”.

The press in Germany also lambasted their national team’s performance, with Der Spiegel kicking off the criticism with the headline “60 minutes of heaven, 30 minutes of hell.”

READ MORE PRESS REACTION FROM GERMANY ON WWW.THELOCAL.DE

Columnist Mats Olsson from Expressen proclaimed the away draw against Germany was in a class by itself when it came to sporting “miracles”.

“For 45 minutes the Swedish national team looked like hedgehogs that had been paralyzed by a car’s headlights,” he said.

“I’ve never seen a sicker, more wild and wonderful match.”

The Local/dl

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