Lars Lagerback was hired to coach Nigeria just a few months before the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, and the veteran Swede has been busy assessing players and getting his team’s overall tactics in place. A serious student of the game and a top-notch evaluator of form, Lagerback can be counted on to bring the strongest Super Eagles team to South Africa. With little time to bring it all together and having never coached outside of Sweden before, many are sceptical that he can get the best from his team once at the finals, but the canny tournament campaigner should not be underestimated. And with the always talented Nigerians at his disposal, Lagerback will be looking to make amends for missing out on the 2010 finals with his native Sweden.
After a long playing career in domestic football, Lagerback honed his coaching skills with small Swedish clubs and, from 1990 to 1995, leading Sweden’s U-21 team. He took over the Swedish national ‘B’ team in 1996 and joined national team manager Tommy Soderberg as an assistant two years later. After a stellar qualifying campaign for the 2000 UEFA European Championship, he was surprisingly promoted to be national team co-manager with Soderberg. The interesting partnership got off to a poor start however as Sweden earned just a point at Euro 2000 and went home at the group stage. But qualification for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan and a subsequent escape from the ‘Group of Death’ turned things around, although they lost to tournament darlings Senegal in the second round. A run to the Euro 2004 quarter-final was stopped by the Netherlands and a penalty shootout, and from there out, Lagerback was in sole charge of the team.
He successfully led them to Germany 2006, where they finished second in their group to England and went on to lose to Germany 2-0 in the second round. Lagerback led the team to their fifth consecutive major tournament, but Sweden went out in the group stage at Euro 2008. After finishing third in a tough qualifying group for South Africa 2010 - behind Denmark and Portugal - Lagerback resigned.
But just months later he turned up on the shortlist for coaches being considered to lead Nigeria, who had demoted previous manager Saibu Amodu after the team finished third at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. Lagerback’s compatriot Sven-Goran Eriksson and former Senegal boss Bruno Metsu were considered frontrunners for the job, but in the end Lagerback was handed the pressure-filled task with the expectation that he lead the two-time African champions to the semi-finals.
With his 62nd birthday just days after the finals, the Swede is undoubtedly hoping this year’s present will be the devotion of Africa’s most populous nation, happy with his performance at the first-ever FIFA World Cup on the continent.