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Following his two-goal salvo in Sweden's opening 5-0 demolition of Bulgaria, Henrik Larsson must be regarded as a thorn across the length and breadth of the Carpathians. His tally against Bulgaria has now been raised to seven goals in six international appearances at different levels – five of those matches ending in victories for Sweden.
Man of the Match accolades were fitting for a player who turned the game in Sweden's favour after a gritty display by Bulgaria for almost an hour had seen them retain hope of salvaging a result despite Fredrik Ljungberg's 33rd-minute opener. Zlatan Ibrahimovic would later add a penalty after Ljungberg had been upended by Vladimir Ivanov, and then substitute Marcus Allbäck would crash the ball over Zdravko Zdravkov in added time from Larsson's lobbed through-ball to add some veneer to the scoreline. Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov, whose side had recorded five clean sheets in qualifying for the final tournament, found his charges on the receiving end of five of Sweden's best. The result also meant that the Bulgarians had not got the better of Sweden in their past ten encounters stretching back 27 years.
Markov shared his view about the match with the Bulgarian national television, mindful of the fact that he now possesses the onerous task of lifting his side for upcoming matches against Italy and Denmark. "Our team didn't cope with the match as we expected," he admitted. "In the first half we played well although there was a goal, but we hope to manage to mobilise the team for the next match on Friday. In the first half I thought we were rather unfortunate to concede a goal as we weren't outplayed by them. However, after the second and third goals it was a different story as we were clearly second best.
We are not used to making so many defensive errors, which are always hard to compensate."
But the match was more about Larsson's successful return from international exile to compete in this final tournament. Revered by the green-and-white half of Glasgow despite leaving Celtic FC at the end of last season, named as Sweden's Golden Player for UEFA's Jubilee celebrations, and now emphatically displaying his talents once more to a worldwide audience.
"It went perfectly, I can't imagine a better way to make my comeback in a competitive match, especially on a night like this when I score two goals and we play very well," Larsson said. "I thought it was difficult for us in the first half, but when we scored our second goal, it became much easier. It was a great cross by [Erik] Edman, I was running between the defenders and just threw myself at the ball to plant the header in the corner of the goal. After that, we were allowed to play in a different way by Bulgaria who started to struggle."
Larsson eschewed the opportunity to complete his hat-trick when Sweden were awarded a penalty which Ibrahimovic converted. "I gave the ball to Zlatan to take it because it's very good for the team for all the strikers to score goals," Larsson said of the decision. "We had three strikers who all scored and that's good. It was a virtually perfect performance in the second half and I can't remember a more enjoyable game I've played for Sweden."
Nevertheless, Sweden will aim to keep their feet on the ground, despite taking such a mammoth step towards the knockout stages of the competition and signalling that they will be a force to be reckoned with as this tournament unfolds. "
It's a great result but it is only the first game and we must not get carried away," added Larsson. "We still have two games to play and we will enjoy this tonight knowing that tomorrow we need to start focusing on the next fixture."
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