Experienced midfielder Anders Svensson aims to put Swedish club football back on the map by helping IF Elfsborg into the UEFA Europa League group stage.
Part of the team that lost 3-1 on aggregate to S.S. Lazio in the play-offs last season, Svensson hopes to go one better as Magnus Haglund's squad prepare to welcome FK Teteks for Thursday's third qualifying round first leg. Not since 2007/08 has a Swedish side featured in the group phase of a European competition – when Elfsborg finished bottom of their UEFA Cup section with one point from four matches – and that, says the 34-year-old, must change.
"Swedish teams have struggled for a long time now in Europe," he told UEFA.com. "It's crucial for Swedish football that we have some success, whether that be in the Champions League or the Europa League. We need to consistently have two or three clubs competing in the group phases."
Following last term's disappointment against Lazio, Svensson – who has spent his entire career at Boras-based Elfsborg save for four English seasons with Southampton FC – feels Elfsborg are showing signs of improvement with each passing campaign.
"Elfsborg are setting a good example and are going a long way towards closing the gap – we've had some good results in recent years," said the 107-cap Swedish international. "We beat [SC] Braga before we were knocked out by Lazio in a close contest. We are hoping to progress and do better each year, but it's tough because every time we produce a great player we must sell him to help the club keep going."
Svensson concedes that the tie against European debutants Teteks presents not just a journey to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 5 August, but a trip into the unknown. "We know very little about them but they beat [FK] Ventspils, which was a great result, and we will not underestimate them," he added. "
We all have the dream that we can replicate what IFK [Göteborg] did in 1994 [reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals] and there is no reason not to believe we can do it this year."
While Svensson has the honour of skippering his club, he has had to relinquish that role for his country following Zlatan Ibrahimović's decision to emerge from international retirement earlier this month. "I wasn't upset when he returned as captain," said Svensson. "If he returned, I always expected him to return as captain. He was captain before me and I knew if he came back I would have to give up the armband.
It was a great honour for me to captain Sweden and Zlatan usually misses a few games so I am sure I will get to wear the armband again. It doesn't change the way I am going to act on the pitch. I am a natural leader and a real winner and I will continue to be one."
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