Sweden take on Russians in decisive group match

An experienced Sweden expects to prevail over a youthful Russia when the two teams meet Wednesday for a spot in the European Championship quarterfinals.

updated: June 22, 2008 07:08 IST
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An experienced Sweden expects to prevail over a youthful Russia when the two teams meet Wednesday for a spot in the European Championship quarterfinals.

With a better goal difference than Russia, Sweden needs only a draw to advance behind Group C winner Spain, but that doesn't mean the disciplined Scandinavians will give away the initiative.

"We want to win this match. We know a draw is enough, but the team selection will primarily be about giving us the best chance to play well and win," Sweden coach Lars Lagerback said on Monday.

That suggests he won't rest any of his top players, including striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is still struggling with a swollen left knee.

Ibrahimovic's fitness remains the biggest concern. The Inter Milan striker has scored in both Sweden's matches, but came off at halftime against Spain after feeling pain in his left knee. It's very unlikely he will be play 90 minutes against Russia.

"He's not played a full game for quite a long time due to his injury," team doctor Anders Valentin said. "We have to be careful with him. I mean if he ... plays full games with only a few days in between, maybe he can't take that."

Sweden won its opening match 2-0 against defending champion Greece, but lost to Spain 2-1 with David Villa scoring the winner in injury time. Russia bounced back from a crushing 4-1 loss to Spain to send Greece home with a 1-0 win in the second match.

"We are very happy that after the first game against Spain ... when we played decent football but rather naively, that the team reacted in the second game as they did. Playing football, but also based on more commitment and more fight," Hiddink said.

"Of course we like to play very attacking football when possible, but that only can be based on ... commitment and also let's say the dirty part, the dirty work _ the work rate which has to be done defensively."

On Sunday, Russia coach Guus Hiddink said he was concerned about captain Sergei Semak, defender Yuri Zhirkov and midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. All three took part in Monday's light training session, but Zhirkov and Bilyaletdinov remain in doubt.

A key issue for Russia is whether to start playmaker Andrei Arshavin, who has served a two-match suspension that has sidelined him at Euro 2008.

Hiddink has hinted he may only use Arshavin as a substitute because he is lacking match fitness and rhythm. The wily, 61-year-old Dutchman declined again Tuesday to say whether he will play. But after selecting Arshavin in is 23-man squad knowing he was suspended for two games, it seems very unlikely Hiddink would not use him against Sweden.

"He is a player who can make the difference," Hiddink said. "He can score an impossible goal from anywhere."

Hiddink is very keen to take the underdog's role, repeatedly saying that Sweden are a better, more experienced team with veterans like 36-year-old striker Henrik Larsson, captain Fredrik Ljungberg and center back Olof Mellberg.

"They are well organized, they have very experienced players and also they have a lot of control _ tactical control and emotional control in the game. They are not getting easily upset," Hiddink said.

Russia is at No. 24 and Sweden at No. 30 in FIFA's rankings, but the Swedes have the better record in major competitions. They advanced past the group stage in the previous two European Championships only to be knocked out in the quarterfinals, while Russia has never progressed out of the group stage as an independent nation.

Midfielder Anders Svensson said Sweden must maintain its discipline to overcome the Russian challenge.

"That's what we did in the past two matches, so I'm confident that if we can make the same kind of performance we won't lose against Russia," Svensson said.