Back-to-back wins in their opening UEFA EURO 2008™ Group F qualifiers have not convinced Sweden supporters that the national team is in the best shape.
A 1-0 victory in Latvia on Saturday followed by last night's 3-1 home success against Liechtenstein leave Sweden with a 100 per cent record in the pool. But if the public were impressed by the result in Riga, troubles off the field seem to have cast a shadow over Wednesday's game in Gothenburg. Against Latvia, Toulouse FC forward Johan Elmander had been a live wire, while Kim Källström ran the show in midfield and the absence of the likes of Henrik Larsson and Teddy Lucic was hardly felt. Coach Lars Lagerbäck could, and probably should, have expected a more comfortable winning margin.
Then, in the run-up to the Liechtenstein tie, Lagerbäck dismissed Olof Mellberg, Christian Wilhelmsson and Zlatan Ibrahimović from the camp for reporting back late from a night out. The players had not been drinking and doubts remain as to whether they will ever work with the coach again. Perhaps as a result, Sweden looked subdued in the rain against Liechtenstein, even though Marcus Allbäck opened the scoring in the second minute. They conceded an equaliser before late goals from Allbäck and Markus Rosenberg secured an unconvincing victory.
For one national newspaper, the match was the worst Sweden had ever won, in terms of performance. Even Lagerbäck was unimpressed. "We should have killed the game after a good start," he said. "After that we became static. It will be a lot more difficult in the next qualifiers against Spain and Iceland." Six points from two outings may be a perfect return, but fans are unconvinced about the chances of qualification. As for the futures of Mellberg, Wilhelmsson and Ibrahimović, Lagerbäck was giving nothing away: "I'll contact them soon." If the Liechtenstein display is anything to go by, Sweden may struggle to thrive without them.
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