Lagerback plots Swedish path
The routine of a national coach may lack the staccato rhythms of club management but there is no danger of any dull moments in this FIFA World Cup year.
In the case of Sweden coach Lars Lagerback, 2006 began with a tour of the Middle East where his squad of Scandinavian-based players drew matches against Saudi Arabia and Jordan . Next up is the 1 March friendly against the Republic of Ireland, his first opportunity to get his full squad together and discuss their plans and objectives for Germany.
Lagerback claims to have settled on "at least 15 or 16" of his final 23-man FIFA World Cup squad but, as he tells FIFAworldcup.com, there remains much work to do before the Swedes depart for their base in Bremen at the beginning of June.
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FIFAworldcup.com: What were the benefits of your trip to the Middle East last month?
Lars Lagerback: It was more for the long term as we only used players from the Nordic countries. It was mainly about giving the younger players experience but of course we had a handful of players who will probably participate in the World Cup and it was a good opportunity to check on them.
Four players made their debuts on the tour - John Alvbage, Matias Concha, Andreas Granqvist and Karl Svensson. Do some of the younger players have a chance of going to Germany?
I think so. It's possible that one or two of the younger players can make it.
How close are you to deciding on your final squad?
Of course there are some things to decide but you can say that if I picked the squad today at least 15 or 16 players would be sure to be in it. Probably a little bit more, but there are some places open, of course.
Since the draw was made for the FIFA World Cup, how have you begun finding out about your opponents?
First of all we have one person that follows each team. They will watch their friendly games and videos of their qualifying matches. We have Benny Lennartsson working on Trinidad and Tobago, Thomas Lyth on England and Goran Goransson on Paraguay. We've started out that way and (assistant coach) Roland Andersson and I are working together with the three of them. We're playing matches at the same time they play so it is hard for me to see them live myself.
You already knew plenty about England but how familiar were you with the other two teams in Group B?
If I look at the Trinidad and Tobago squad then some of the names are familiar as they are playing in Britain but I know very little about them and I only know a bit about Paraguay. We had a friendly against Paraguay before the World Cup in 2002 (which the South Americans won 2-1) and that was the last time I saw a whole match involving them.
Before the FIFA World Cup, you're playing friendlies against the Republic of Ireland, Finland and Chile. How important is it to find the right opponents for these matches?
We had already decided on the 1 March friendly against the Republic of Ireland. The main thing for us was the quality of the opposition. We chose Chile due to Paraguay as there are probably some similarities.
What are you hoping to get out of the friendly against the Irish?
One important objective is to get the squad together. It's almost as important as to play the match. We want to sit down and discuss our plans for the World Cup so they can have their say. From a football point of view it is important for us to get practice and have a good test against a good opponent as we have so few opportunities to play (before the World Cup).
Do you manage to keep in regular contact with the players between friendlies?
We try to keep a watch on the players as well as we can. We have about 35-40 players that we look to follow as closely as possible. They are playing in 11-12 countries so you have to prioritise. We try to keep in contact with them all but often it's on the telephone.
Apart from the football side, how difficult is it planning for a FIFA World Cup in terms of finding the right hotels, training facilities and so on?
I don't think it is so difficult. A big advantage now is our organisation as we've been to a number of finals now and we have good staff around us. I travelled to Germany last May with our team secretary (Mats Engqivst) and saw 13 places and then we made a preliminary booking in Bremen in June. We will stay there for the first round.
What do you enjoy most about the challenge of preparing for a big tournament like this?
The football part is the main thing. Trying to get to know the opposition as well as you can and prepare your own team the best way you can. Going to a World Cup is a lot of logistics and planning, it's a challenge in many ways but a privilege to be able to participate.
Have you set yourself any targets for Germany?
Of course we have talked about it but before we make anything official we would like to chat with the players. It's good to have the players and the staff involved in setting out the goals that we have for the World Cup. If we have a very good day we know we have the possibility to beat any team. Of course we are positive but the margins are so narrow.
Finally, would you say the current Sweden team are stronger than the team you took to the Far East four years ago?
It depends on what part of the game we are talking about. What we have developed is the offensive part of our game. We have better skills and speed in the team than we used to, but at the same time I would say we're not as strong defensively. That's football it's how you find a balance.