Sweden midfielder Anders Svensson stands on the verge of entering the history books for his country and for long-time club IF Elfsborg – for that is what a place in the UEFA Europa League group stage would mean.
Last Wednesday Svensson won his 142nd cap for Sweden, putting him within one of Thomas Ravelli's record. He marked the occasion with a stunning 35-metre shot that put his nation 4-2 up against Norway at the Friends Arena. In hindsight, the visiting defence should have known better than to give Svensson time to aim and fire; any Argentine football fan could have warned them. After all, it was a Svensson free-kick that effectively eliminated the South American pre-tournament favourites from the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Throughout his career, Svensson has racked up material for a tasty highlight reel, a lot of the gems consisting of long-range efforts. One example was Svensson's first Sweden goal, scored in his maiden competitive international, a World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in 2000. The year before he was responsible for the Allsvenskan goal of the season when he volleyed in against Malmö FF, straight from a corner. He famously repeated the feat the following day when Swedish television came to Elfsborg's training ground to make him prove that it had not been just a fluke.
The 37-year old came to the club in 1993, and along with another future Swedish international, Tobias Linderoth, helped Elfsborg win promotion back to the top flight in 1996, after a ten-year absence. Svensson's international exploits eventually attracted foreign interest and he joined Southampton FC in 2001, returning to Elfsborg four years later.
Elfsborg and Svensson won the Allsvenskan in 2006, and have been consistent contenders in European competition in recent years. However, the furthest they have come is the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League play-offs.
Two weeks ago, Elfsborg came agonisingly close to shocking the Scottish champions at Celtic FC. Svensson – with a right-footed shot, naturally – slammed the crossbar from distance, leaving the Scottish TV commentator gasping: "My goodness, what a strike that was!"
In the end, it was not enough for Elfsborg to reach a first UEFA Champions League play-off, but they now have a chance for a UEFA Europa League first as they face FC Nordsjælland over the next two Thursdays. Svensson said: "We'll carry with us the knowledge that we played as well as this against a team that went far in last season's Champions League."
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