A late bloomer alongside Per Nilsson, Mikael Antonsson is hopeful that he and his fellow central defender will have "our best match together" against Portugal on Tuesday.
Both Nilsson (31) and Antonsson (32) have only become regular starters for Sweden in the past few months, taking their international tallies to 14 caps apiece. However, their most recent appearance in tandem ended unsatisfactorily, Cristiano Ronaldo finding a way through with eight minutes left to give Portugal a 1-0 lead at the midway point of their FIFA World Cup play-off tie.
"I can't say it was our best match together," said Antonsson. "After all, we lost. I felt we did a good job, but we didn't keep a clean sheet. Hopefully our best match together will be on Tuesday."
Since Olof Mellberg's international retirement after UEFA EURO 2012, Erik Hamrén has been forced to find a new bedrock to his defence. Nilsson and Antonsson showed impressive resilience in Lisbon although the latter hopes to be less busy back at the Friends Arena. "If we can provide better support for our forwards we'll create more chances – it should be a fun night," he said.
Having been in the ascendancy for much of the first half on Friday, Hamrén knows his side need to turn the screw should they get on top once again. "This tie is still alive," he said. "We've shown time and time again during this qualifying campaign that we can turn around difficult situations." He does not rule out the possibility of it ending in the most nail-biting fashion of all – the penalty shoot-out.
Paulo Bento is similar minded, saying his squad have been planning for that eventuality, but he hopes an away goal will quickly eliminate that possibility. "We want to have the ball and to attack," he said. "It will be important to score though we know that even if we score one the tie will not be settled. Our strategy is to win this match, but for that we will have to be fully focused and ready for whatever crops up," he explained.
That may mean being without Fábio Coentrão, who has been training separately, while there is also the possible closed roof to contend with. Bento expects his squad will take it in their stride. "We believe that we will succeed with the game plan we have prepared, but we will have to have the same attitude as Friday," concluded the coach, whose squad held a minute's silence before training at the Friends Arena in honour of Alex Marques after the third division player died on Sunday.
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