Sweden coach Erik Hamrén may have had his eye on Ola Toivonen since the playmaker was eight years old, but the whole nation will be watching when Toivonen takes on his father's home country of Finland on Tuesday.
The PSV Eindhoven attacker had a starring role in Friday's 4-1 win in Moldova, opening the scoring and setting up Johan Elmander for the second as Sweden closed the gap on UEFA EURO 2012 Group E leaders the Netherlands. Now much will be expected when the 25-year-old enters the fray against Nordic rivals Finland.
However, despite the fact his father, Yrjö, was born in Finland, the game in Solna carries no special weight for Toivonen Jr. "Not at all," he said. "We have to beat them because we need six points against Moldova and Finland: simple as that." Yrjö, meanwhile, says he may drop his usual pro-Finnish stance.
It was probably to his son's advantage that, when Toivonen Sr left Finland, he settled in Degerfors – a small town known in Sweden for two things: its steel mill and football. Gunnar Nordahl, Ralf Edström and Olof Mellberg all launched their careers at Degerfors IF, while Sven-Göran Eriksson and Sweden boss Hamrén feature among the team's former coaches.
Indeed, as the club's president, Yrjö Toivonen hired Hamrén as coach in 1994. Thus the gaffer spent much of that summer watching Sweden's progress at the FIFA World Cup with his new neighbours, the Toivonens, and clearly made a mental note of the burgeoning talent of eight-year-old Ola.
In a magazine interview earlier this year, Ola Toivonen was asked if he had been impressed to have Hamrén around the house so much. "Nah," came the reply. "He was just the coach." Even so, the connection continued after Hamrén moved on – he invited the youngster to train with his Aalborg BK side eight years later.
If Hamrén was unable to lure Toivonen away from his beloved Degerfors on that occasion, the player's talent proved too big for the club to contain. He eventually went to Örgryte IS, Malmö FF and then PSV, while Hamrén also got his man – calling him up to his first squad as Sweden coach in November 2009.
Hamrén still rates his protege highly. "It's like being in love," he said. "After being in a relationship for a while you start noticing your partner's faults, but with Ola it's still like the early days of complete infatuation." Sweden is beginning to feel that passion too; Finland can only hope the love affair goes sour on Tuesday.
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