For a man who played at FIFA World Cups and UEFA European Championships, Moldova is hardly the most obvious name to evoke fond memories.
But in Marcus Allbäck's case, the thought of a cold March night in Chisinau is something to cherish as Sweden welcome Moldova to Solna in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group E on Tuesday. "Of course I get nice memories with this match approaching," said Allbäck, today Sweden's assistant coach but the scorer of two vital goals when the sides met ten years ago.
It was on 28 March 2001 that Allbäck stepped off the bench with 12 minutes left in a World Cup qualifier in the Moldovan capital. The scores were level at 0-0 but the striker duly netted twice, in the 87th and 89th minutes, to seal a 2-0 win that not only helped Sweden along the path to Korea/Japan, but boosted Allbäck's international prospects considerably.
"That was actually the first time I got to play in a competitive match for Sweden," Allbäck, 37, told UEFA.com. "Those minutes in Chisinau meant a lot. The two goals meant I was given my first start in the following qualifier. We beat Slovakia 2-0 and once again I scored twice."
At the time, Sweden's attack was usually led by Henrik Larsson and Kennet Andersson, while a promising young forward called Zlatan Ibrahimović waited in the wings. With the help of his Moldovan exploits, Allbäck went on to earn 74 caps for his country, scoring 30 goals, during a national-team career spanning nearly nine years.
Asked by UEFA.com for his recollections of the Moldova game, Allbäck, the former Örgryte IS, SC Heerenveen, Aston Villa FC and FC København front man, said: "I only played about ten minutes that match. What I remember most is the snow surrounding the pitch. But my memories of ten years ago won't matter much anyway. Moldova are a much better team now."
Like head coach Erik Hamrén, Allbäck has been impressed by the defensive qualities of the eastern Europeans, who started their campaign with a 2-0 win against Finland before losing narrowly to Hungary and the Netherlands. "The Dutch are no pushovers and even they had to work hard to win 1-0. Moldova will be a tough challenge, we know that," said Allbäck, who has fresher memories of the Netherlands thrashing Sweden 4-1 in Amsterdam in October.
Allbäck takes his place on the Sweden bench again on Tuesday – ten years and one day after he launched himself on the international stage – only this time he will leave the heroics to somebody else.
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