Swedes enter match of Russian roulette
AFP · 16 Jun 2008, 13:40
Published: 16 Jun 2008 13:40 GMT+02:00
Both the Swedes and Russia are on three points, but the Russians will be rueing the fact that they did not take more of their chances against the woeful defending champions Greece on Saturday - a 1-0 victory barely reflecting their dominance.
Sweden, as is their wont, have been putting on a brave face in light of the Spanish reverse, but their morale will take a huge dent if star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is unable to take his place in the starting XI because of his longstanding left knee problem.
The 26-year-old Inter Milan hotshot has lived up. albeit in two cameo appearances, to his now famous 'I am brilliant' assessment of himself when asked how he summed himself up - with a goal apiece in their first two matches.
While veteran Henrik Larsson has still shown he is a class act at this level, it has been 'Ibracadabra' who has shown the cutting edge in front of goal and Markus Rosenberg, his replacement for the second-half of the Spanish match, barely made an impression against Spain's defence.
The Swedish camp, though, insist that Ibrahimovic will be okay to at least play a part in the match as he follows a daily regime of acupuncture and ultrasound treatment.
"We are confident he will be fit as the situation is stable, the pain he is feeling is similar to what he felt after the first match," said one of the team's medical staff, Magnus Forssblad.
"He did feel something after 45 minutes (against Spain) and as a precaution he came off. However, all is going well and I believe he will play on Wednesday."
Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck is not one to take risks but he may feel he has no option other than to start with Ibrahimovic as he is able to fashion something out of nothing and in terms of the creativity department the Swedes are seriously lacking, especially as captain Freddie Ljungberg's powers are on the wane.
That is one area where the Russians are strong - even in the 4-1 defeat by Spain they created opportunities - but the downside is that they have failed to convert them.
Roman Pavlyuchenko was the chief culprit against the Greeks, delightful on the ball and capable of conjuring up the chances, but with a tendency to just shoot and hope, or to ignore better-placed team-mates in going for goal himself.
It is one area where their coach Guus Hiddink is looking for an improvement against the Swedes.
"It is not easy at international level to conjure up five or six chances," said the 61-year-old Dutchman.
"You have to convert at least three."
While Hiddink's side will be hugely boosted by the return of striker come playmaker Andrei Arshavin, who has been suspended for the first two matches, they have injury worries over three key midfielders - Diniyar Bilyaletdinov Yuri Zhirkov and Sergei Semak, whose superb overhead kick set up their goal against Greece.
Hiddink is a master of mind games over his long career and is instilling into his young side that they are here to learn what it is like to play at a major finals and to take it onto another level afterwards, though he is not accepting they are going to lose.
"This will be one hell of a match and we will obviously be outsiders," said Hiddink, who has twice taken sides to the World Cup semi-finals, Holland in 1998 and South Korea in 2002.
"But outsiders can play a good match. My players showed against Greece that they can play at the highest level."