Lagerback: Let's be realistic
The Swedish camp are more realistic about their prospects of qualifying for the UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-finals than their non playing compatriots of whom 75 per cent in a recent poll believed they would, according to coach Lars Lagerback.
The 59-year-old, who either as joint coach prior to becoming sole coach since 2004 has taken the Swedes for the first time to their fifth successive major finals, said he believed Group D would be extremely tight, as he spoke on the eve of their opening match against holders Greece.
"Taking into account our recent results, it is logical that expectations have risen," said Lagerback. "But we are realistic. It will be a very well balanced match in a group which will be very tight where each team has a good chance to go through.
"We know the Greeks well, their weaknesses and their strengths," he went on. "But I am certain that they know ours as well. They are very strong physically, work like maniacs, and are excellent at set pieces."
Lagerback, who recently signed a two year extension to his contract taking him to the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, said he was not convinced the hard-nosed Greeks would man mark both of his strikers, nominally Inter Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic - who is recovering still from a knee injury - or 36-year-old veteran Henrik Larsson, who he surprisingly recalled to the squad for the finals after a two year hiatus.
"It is possible," he responded. "Even if they (the Greeks) did not play like that individually during qualifying, they did just that at Euro 2004.
"They could return to that system (manmarking). They could also play with a system of three defenders in a more offensive system. But that is not something that really concerns us."
Lagerback was not so sure whether 26-year-old Ibrahimovic - whose last of his 18 international goals in 50 appearances dates back to October 2005 - would be able to last out a full 90 minutes against what promises to be a real physical challenge against the titleholders
"It's a long time since he played the full 90 minutes (though after six weeks on the sidelines for Inter he did return on the final day of the season to score the two goals that gave them a 2-0 win over Parma and their third successive Serie A title edging out AS Roma).
"We will see. But he has been going well in training. He is among those who appear to me to be readier than most."
Spain take on Russia in the other Group D match on Tuesday.