Sweden determined to break World Cup jinx
AFP · 10 Sep 2007, 15:25
Published: 10 Sep 2007 15:25 GMT+02:00
The Scandinavians have reached the knockout stage of all four previous World Cups, including in 2003 when they lost the final to European champions Germany in heartbreaking fashion in extra time.
But they were forced on all occasions to bounce back and fight their way through the tournament after inexplicably losing their first matches.
Head coach Thomas Dennerby shrugged off the dismal opening record as irrelevant and the subject of media hype.
But he conceded losing to African champions Nigeria on Tuesday could prove detrimental to their chances of clinching the title for the first time.
"If we lose the first game, it's going to be a very tough situation, we are going to have to beat both USA and North Korea and everyone who knows football knows that is a really tough way to go for us," Dennerby said.
"But if that should happen, we know that Sweden gets better and better the longer a tournament goes on.
"It's three tough games," he added.
Sweden are grouped with Asian number ones North Korea, the United States and Nigeria in the so-called 'Group of Death'.
The Americans, early favourites to win the Cup, take on North Korea in the other Group B match on Tuesday in what is expected to be a fierce encounter.
Sweden have retained 13 players for their China campaign, including dynamic striker Hanna Ljungberg who has just recovered from a calf and also a hamstring injury.
"I've taken part in almost every practice now with the national team (for the last month)," Ljungberg said.
"I'm trying not to focus on whether I've played much football but trying to do the best I can in each and every practice," she said.
She declined to rate her fitness, but said she was buoyed by a strong personal performance against Denmark in a warm-up match last month when she came on as a substitute to score.
She said she and fellow veteran forward Victoria Svensson were a potent force, anticipating each other's moves during matches.
"We played together for 45 minutes against Denmark and it was like we had played 10 years together. We see the game in the same way, we think like each other," she said.