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Lagerbäck lacking striking cover

Coach Lars Lagerbäck will be happy Sweden are leading their UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying group, but a lack of striking talent could undermine their challenge.

Excellent start
Sweden have begun their campaign with a perfect record. Wins against Latvia, Liechtenstein, Spain and Iceland have given them a five-point advantage in UEFA EURO 2008™ Group F, with Lagerbäck's side in pole position to reach next year's finals in Austria and Switzerland. However, an injury to Marcus Allbäck has sidelined the FC København forward for six weeks and, with a trip to Northern Ireland looming on 28 March, his attacking options are limited.

Allbäck setback
Allbäck has been in exceptional form this term, and with a record of 26 goals from 64 internationals, boasts a goalscoring rate that compares with the best. Fellow frontman Johan Elmander proved last autumn that he too can cope with the demands of the national-team game. Yet, behind the Toulouse FC striker, lurks something of a void.

Out of reach
All the more galling for Lagerbäck is that Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimović, undoubtedly among Europe's finest forwards, have retired from international football. Larsson has shown, during his loan spell at Manchester United FC, that he still passes muster at élite level, but is unlikely to return to the Sweden fold. Ibrahimović, meanwhile, has inspired FC Internazionale Milano to a record sequence of Serie A wins, though the mercurial 25-year-old cannot be persuaded back into the squad.

Forward options
SC Heerenveen's Lasse Nilsson, Markus Rosenberg of Werder Bremen, and Daniel Nannskog of Stabæk IF have all played friendly matches, but the jury is out on them. Closer to home the Allsvenskan goalscoring charts do not suggest immediate contenders. Last year's top marksman, other than Larsson at Helsingborgs IF, was AIK Solna full-back Markus Jonsson with eight. Halmstads BK's Magnus Arvidsson registered seven times but is widely regarded as too slow for the international stage while IFK Göteborg's Stefan Selakovic is yet to dazzle for his country.

Formation change
Lagerbäck could spring a surprise by giving Malmö FF's 20-year-old Ola Toivonen his first cap, yet so far the coach has tended not to throw unproven talent in at the deep end. The alternative for Lagerbäck is to opt for a 4-5-1 formation against Northern Ireland, with Elmander the lone striker, but the last time he tried that, Sweden were outclassed 3-0 by Germany at the FIFA World Cup. Seven years into the job and international management is not getting any easier for Lagerbäck.