After playing in four straight major finals tournaments, Sweden midfielder Anders Svensson is experiencing something odd this summer. "It feels strange and bitter not to be at the World Cup," the IF Elsborg player told UEFA.com.
Svensson made his mark on his finals debut in 2002, scoring the free-kick against Argentina in the final group-phase fixture that eliminated the South American side and sent Sweden through to the knockout phase. Then, with Sweden's last-16 tie level at 1-1 in extra-time, Svensson picked up a loose ball in the Senegal area, stepped on the ball, spun and shot only to see his effort strike the post. Minutes later, Senegal scored the golden goal that sent Sweden home.
Svensson went on to play at UEFA EURO 2004, the 2006 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2008. "This time I'll definitely try to not to miss the more interesting games, but
I'm not the type to sit in front of the TV all day watching every match," said the 33-year-old, who still aims to add to his 107 caps for Sweden in forthcoming qualifiers against the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Moldova and San Marino. "The draw for the next EUROs doesn't look impossible. Several of the lads play for big clubs in Europe and we've had new players coming up from the U21s. They've brought new energy to the team."
Among the fresh new faces is former Elfsborg club-mate Emir Bajrami, who recently signed for Dutch champions FC Twente. "He's a fantastic player, one of the very best that I've played with," enthused Svensson, who along with the rest of the Elfsborg quad is now preparing for the second half of Allsvenskan – and the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round on 15 and 22 July, having fallen to S.S. Lazio in the play-offs last year.
"We need to knock out two very good teams to reach the group stage, but we learned a lot last year," Svensson said. "We knocked out a quality side in Braga and then created lots of chances against Lazio. Problem is, it doesn't help to just create chances. Lazio on the other hand are a team that make the most of the chances they get."
Svensson, whose whole career has been spent at Elfsborg save for a four-year spell in England with Southampton FC, says that playing in Europe has been a highlight but has had several other precious moments with the club. "When we won promotion to the Allsvenskan in 1996 was one," he remembers. "The biggest highlight though was winning the Allsvenskan ten years after that. It was the reward for hard work and professionalism that's lifted both the football and finances of the club. Elfsborg have worked to a long-term plan and keep doing so."
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