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Sweden prepares for Alpine adventure

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Sweden prepares for Alpine adventure
Photo: Lustfish, G Schouten de Jel
17:45 CEST+02:00
Reigning champions Greece aside, Group D at the Euro 2008 finals could be summed up as the group of underachievers with Sweden being one of the foremost offenders.

Whilst the Swedes are regular qualifiers for major finals - this is their fifth successive appearance at either a Euro or a World Cup - once they get there they have regularly failed to make a huge impression save for the 1994 World Cup, where they reached the semi-finals.

In a group which also features fellow underachievers Spain - who topped their qualifying group - and Russia as well as the Greeks, the Swedes can hope to make the last eight.

The squad on paper has as ever a solid look about it with the outstanding Olof Mellberg marshalling the defence having earned a deserved move to Juventus next season after seven years with Aston Villa.

The midfield has a certain amount of artistry within it but much will depend on whether Freddie Ljungberg can remain fit for any length of time. West Ham fans will complain that they didn't get a lot for his huge wage packet, so long did he spend on the sidelines after his move from Arsenal.

However, should Ljungberg break down again the Swedes can still look to the experience of the likes of Kim Källström - coming off a French title win with Lyon - Tobias Linderoth and Anders Svensson.

Up front they have fireworks aplenty with fiery marksman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be disregarded at his opponents' peril having scored a brace to secure Inter Milan their third successive title on Sunday, and potentially matching him up with veteran - one could even say pensioner - Henrik Larsson.

Even Larsson was astonished at his call-up confessing that he thought all the strikers places had been sewn up, but adding he was delighted to have the chance to make up for his disappointment in the 2006 World Cup finals where hosts Germany outclassed them in the second round and Larsson missed a penalty.

It was questionable whether the Larsson/Ibrahimovic partnership really gelled at those finals and two years on even the seemingly evergreen Swedish legend cannot be counted on to last a whole match.

For Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck, though, there is no doubting that while Sweden may not have won a title their reputation is growing.

"I certainly feel, going round the world, that Sweden are afforded a great deal more respect now than they were when I first became involved," he said in a recent interview with international football federation FIFA.

That respect will turn into burning admiration should the Swedes finally turn promise into something more tangible.

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