Former Sweden coach Lars Lagerbäck once called Rasmus Elm "the biggest talent we've seen since Zlatan Ibrahimović". Since then, the midfielder has gradually fulfilled that promise, and as Sweden prepare to open their Group D bid against co-hosts Ukraine tonight, hopes are high that the rest of the world will sit up and take notice this summer.
Elm showed what he could do in just his third full international for Sweden, firing a half-volley from 25 metres that flew past helpless Austria goalkeeper Alexander Manninger and into the top corner. That was in February 2009, when the then-Kalmar FF player was the most sought-after talent in the Swedish top flight. Six months later, he was packing his bags for AZ Alkmaar.
Though no overnight sensation in the Dutch Eredivisie, Elm has enjoyed more and more playing time and his importance for the side steadily increased – just as it has for Sweden. Still only 24, he notched an impressive ten goals for AZ this season despite operating as a playmaker.
For Sweden, meanwhile, he has evolved into a consistent midfield starter alongside the likes of Kim Källström and Sebastian Larsson. While the former is a purely central player and the latter operates on the right wing, Elm has a versatility that sets him apart from his colleagues in the Blågult squad.
"He can be positioned anywhere – left, right, centre – except for on the bench," wrote Swedish newspaper Sportbladet yesterday, singling out Elm as the most important of the nation's midfielders. For media and fans alike, the expectation is that he can use UEFA EURO 2012 to make his major international breakthrough, though the player himself pays short shrift to such predictions.
"Whatever the press and others speculate is up to them," Elm told UEFA.com. "I know where I stand. I take such talk with a pinch of salt, even though it's nice to hear."
He is happier discussing his set-piece prowess, one of his more striking qualities along with his superb work rate, excellent vision and potent shot. "I've been fortunate this year to nail a few," he said, before recognising that Källström, Larsson and Ibrahimović are also dangerous from free-kicks. "We've got a few players who can score them for us, like Kim did against the Netherlands."
Källström's curled effort came in the final round of qualifiers as Sweden beat the Oranje 3-2 to secure their place at the finals. Having worked so hard to be here, they will now open their campaign against co-hosts Ukraine at a sold-out Olympic Stadium in Kyiv tonight.
"They are the home team and we know they're good," said Elm. "We played them not so long ago and it was tough and tight. I expect the same again. With their home support, they will get an extra push, but I hope there will be some Swedes there to help us."
For encouragement, Elm and Co can also turn to coach Erik Hamrén, and the No6 outlined his respect for the man in charge. "He is calm away from the pitch and passionate and knowledgeable on it. He really radiates energy and hopefully we can take some of that with us in the match against Ukraine – and beyond."
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