When Anders Svensson watched Thomas Ravelli make his 143rd and final Sweden appearance in 1997, he felt the record would stand forever. And no wonder. At that stage, no-one in Europe could match the veteran keeper’s mammoth tally.
But fast forward 16 years, and it is Svensson himself who is on the verge of snatching away this seemingly unattainable record. The 36-year-old Elfsborg midfielder needs just four more caps to equal Ravelli and, as he told FIFA.com, he is confident of making history.
In this exclusive interview, the former Southampton star also offers his views on the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign, shares his favourite FIFA World Cup™ memories, and gives his perspective on life in the unpredictable Swedish Allsvenskan.
FIFA.com: Anders, you won your second league championship with Elfsborg last year. How are things shaping up this season?
Anders Svensson: We’ve had some injury problems and that’s meant we’ve had to try a few new players, and change positions a little bit. I’ve even been playing centre-back at times and, although that went ok, it’s not something I’m crazy about. But we’re still unbeaten after six games and hopefully it’s going to keep on getting better and better. I actually think we have a stronger squad this time and, if we have our key players fit, we should do well. We also have Champions League qualifiers coming up in the summer, so it’s a very big year for the club, and hopefully a great year too.
You were the sixth different club to win the Swedish title in as many seasons. What do you put that down to?
It’s a combination of things. The problem with a league like ours is that when a team does well, it attracts clubs from other countries to come in and buy their best players, so it’s never the same team defending the title and trying to qualify for the Champions League. Some teams have lost half their starting 11, and that makes it really hard to maintain success. But the Swedish league is very open generally, and not one of those that is dominated by the same two or three big teams.
You’ve been back in Sweden for eight years now, and returned from England when you had just turned 29. Do you ever regret not staying in the Premier League a little longer?
Not really. There have been times when I’ve thought about going back to England but the right opportunities haven’t been there. At the time, I just felt really tired and I missed home. I hadn’t enjoyed my last year in England, and it felt like the right thing to do. But the Premier League is special, and there have been times when I’ve felt that it would be a nice thing to go back.
How happy are you with life in the national team these days?
I’m enjoying it, but our form has been quite mixed. We did well to qualify for the EURO but the tournament itself was a big disappointment. Getting knocked out after two games wasn’t what we had expected at all. But we’re in a decent position to qualify for Brazil. I think most people expect Germany to win the group but we should be in with a good chance of coming second. The draw at home to Republic of Ireland was a setback though, and we were lucky to get a point from that game because the Irish were better than us. That’s a worry because they are one of the teams we’re fighting with for second.
Physically, I feel better now than I did in my early 20s. I know more know about what to eat, how to train and what my body needs to keep it in the best condition.
Is it a case of aiming for second now? Have you given up on catching the Germans?
When got the draw in Germany, I thought we had a good chance of competing with them. We’ve always had a good record at home against the big teams, so it looked good. But they have been really strong since then, and I just can’t see them dropping many points.
That 4-4 draw in Germany will live long in the memory, I’m sure.
It was unbelievable. But that’s psychology for you. For an hour of that game, they absolutely hammered us. We were lucky to just be 4-0 down. But then we got a couple of quick goals and suddenly they started to get a bit nervous. At the same time, we got a lot of energy and realised that, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t impossible’. Then we got a third goal and they panicked. We saw that and got so much energy from it. It was an amazing turnaround.
You have experience of two previous FIFA World Cups, having reached the last 16 in both 2002 and 2006. Which of the two tournaments was your favourite?
For me, definitely 2002. I played more in that tournament and we also had a better team, playing better football. We got knocked out on a golden goal by Senegal, but winning a group with Argentina, England, Nigeria was a massive success in itself. I still think we could have gone far in that tournament because we had the beating of Senegal and, if we’d gone through, we would have played Turkey. They obviously finished third and were a good team, but we had played them in the qualifiers and done very well. They didn’t like playing against our style of football and I’m pretty sure we’d have got past them.
Is there a favourite memory from that tournament? Scoring the free-kick against Argentina?
Definitely. That was such a big game and we knew that we needed a draw to go through. To score a goal like that in a World Cup is something you remember forever.
How long do you foresee yourself playing on for Sweden? Is Thomas Ravelli’s record the big target?
Absolutely. I’m only four away from that now and it’s something I’m really hoping to reach, especially now that I’m so close. I don’t feel like finishing yet. As long as I feel good and my body’s still doing the things my head wants it to do, I’ll keep going. Physically, I feel better now than I did in my early 20s. I know more know about what to eat, how to train and what my body needs to keep it in the best condition.
Have you ever spoken to Ravelli about the record?
We had a friendly game at the end of last year and we spoke a bit about it then. He said that he wants me to break it, but I don’t think I believe him! He is surprised that anyone has even got close because he was so far in front. I’m actually quite surprised myself. It seemed like a record that no-one would ever break - especially not an outfield player. But I’m not there yet. I need to make sure I play a few more games, although I do feel that I still deserve my place in the squad. I accept I won’t play every game but I’ve still had some really good performances with the national team, and the coach knows what he’ll get from me. If he needs someone to keep the ball, I can still do a good job.
What about after that? Do you see yourself going into management?
I’ll definitely think about it. But I don’t know if I’d like to be a manager in the Swedish league because, to me, the mentality here is a little soft. Having played in England, I think I would fit in much better there. But I think my wife will leave me if I become a coach, so maybe I should look at doing something else!