Sweden captain Fredrik Ljungberg knows when he is facing top-class opponents, but says admiration for Spain will not be taking the place of ambition to win.
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Sweden captain Fredrik Ljungberg has been an international footballer long enough to know when he is facing first-class opposition – but he says admiration for Spain will not take the place of ambition when the top two in UEFA EURO 2008™ Group D meet in Innsbruck.
The 31-year-old did not have to play twice against Spain in qualifying to be aware of the quality of Luis Aragonés's team, but while he foresees a rigorous examination at the Stadion Tivoli Neu he also expects to win. "Spain are a great side and over the two games, when we won in Stockholm and then lost in Madrid, our respect for them grew," said the West Ham United FC attacking midfielder, who played a full part in Sweden's 2-0 victory over Greece after recovering from a late-season rib injury. "But don't let anyone think we have too much respect for them because we are a good side too. It's a big challenge to defeat them, partly because they play with a style which is similar to the one developed at Arsenal [FC] when I was there. I understand very well how good their passing and movement can be. One of the keys for us is to be patient and to put our pace, our own passing ability, or our technique to perfect use when we see an opportunity."
In the build-up to Saturday evening's tantalising encounter between two national teams who first met as far back as the 1920 Olympic Games, there has been much talk about whether Sweden, with a slightly older side and a couple of players returning from injury, might need to rotate their squad. Ljungberg is firmly against the idea. "I think the idea of resting players in a major tournament is a really sticky subject," he added. "Let's say we get an unfortunate result and Russia win – then having rested someone would feel like an unnecessary risk."
Having played with Cesc Fàbregas and then against Fernando Torres in the Premier League, Ljungberg appreciates what moving to England has done for two players who managed an assist and a goal on Tuesday in the 4-1 opening win over Russia. "Torres was a brilliant striker at [Club] Atlético de Madrid but I simply have to applaud what he's achieved in his first season in England [with Liverpool FC] because it has been amazing. Few footballers adapt to the physical style as quickly as he managed. As for Cesc, I know how good he is and what is worth remembering is that Spain played equally well with or without him against Russia. That's because they are a top-class side."