Just as strikers live and breathe goals, so defenders fall asleep at night dreaming of new ways to impose themselves on centre-forwards and make themselves kings of the penalty box.
Spain's back four are already feeling goose bumps and have the hairs prickling on the back of their necks at the prospect of stopping the odd couple of international goalscoring - Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimović. The pair can boast utterly different styles of play, carry a mixture of Swedish, African and Balkan DNA, and have a ten-year age differential, but each is brilliant at what he does best. Both Joan Capdevila and Juanito took time out after training on Thursday to admit how eagerly Spain are looking forward to the extreme test of shutting the two Swedes out of the Group D encounter in Innsbruck on Saturday.
Villarreal CF full-back Capdevila and Juanito, the Real Betis Balompié centre-back, each has personal experience of how difficult it can be to stop Larsson who, at 36, has stepped out of international retirement for one more shot at winning what a major tournament, at what is his sixth attempt. "Larsson is a spectacular header of the ball," Capdevila said. "He and Zlatan are so different as footballers but make a tremendous partnership. In Spanish football we've had complete evidence of how good a player Larsson has been [during his two years at FC Barcelona] and while he's not likely to be dribbling past defenders he's extremely good in the air and a good finisher." The Catalan actually scored his first international goal against the Swedes during qualification for UEFA EURO 2008™ and, although a repeat performance would be no simple task, it is worthy of note that he struck the winner against the United States last week and played a vital role in each of Spain's first two goals against Russia on Tuesday.
"My view is that although they beat us in Stockholm during qualifying and we had that 3-0 home win in the other group game the two sides are very close to one another in terms of potential," said Capdevila. "Certainly this is the toughest of our three group matches and, although the objective is to get into the quarter-finals as quickly as possible, winning is going to be some task. Perhaps a key for us will be keeping Zlatan a good distance away from our penalty box. Let him near your goal and he's hard to stop so we must keep a high line and deny him possession." Juanito added: "Although I fully expect the coach to reward the lads by starting with the same lineup on Saturday, I really would like to play in this particular match because winning the ball in the air is my speciality. I prefer opponents who play the direct, long-ball football and I'd love to pitch myself up against Larsson once again."
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