Rivals in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008™, Sweden and Spain each have a victory under their belt as they face off in Innsbruck attempting to move clear in Group D.
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If Spain perform against Sweden in their second Group D match with the same flair, colour and attitude as coach Luis Aragonés showed while previewing the contest then everyone is in for an exceptional treat.
In theory the meeting with Lars Lagerbäck's ultra-disciplined side, thorny rivals during qualification for UEFA EURO 2008™, should have been a cause for nerves and tension. Instead Aragonés was full of wit, good humour and evident anticipation of a great evening at the Stadion Tivoli Neu. Asked by a Swedish journalist about pictures of Sergio Ramos in an Innsbruck disco during the week, the 69-year-old quipped: "It was his day off! You're just lucky you didn't catch me in the disco too. I like disco music, but prefer flamenco. I was worried you were going to show me something worse!" He brought the house down. And his high spirits extended to more questions about Fernando Torres.
"I had a chat with him but there has never been a problem," he said in reference to the idea that the Liverpool FC striker was still smarting from being substituted against Russia. "Sometimes you build a paternal relationship with players and I've been with him a long time, but he's only been in my sides on merit." Torres and David Villa certainly deserve the spotlight. Their partnership destroyed Russia on Tuesday and they linked up for another goal in the final training match before Saturday's game. But two other factors could be vital against Sweden. Lars Lagerbäck's outfit are excellent aerially, but they are missing both Niclas Alexandersson (calf) and Christian Wilhelmsson (hamstring) down the right – a weakness Spain will hope to exploit.
"Sweden have got big lads who win the ball in the air, so we must cut their supply," said Aragonés. "I think our left side is in great shape. David Silva can play anywhere across the pitch and Joan Capdevila could be a central defender, a wing-back, a midfielder, and he gives you goals." Fredrik Stoor should beat off competition from Mikael Dorsin to replace Alexandersson but what concerns Lagerbäck more than changing a winning lineup following the 2-0 defeat of reigning champions Greece, is that his team show total concentration. "What we've learned over the last couple of years against Spain is that, if your focus slips, they will hurt you. Give them the ball and drop our concentration and they will play like they are the best in the world. That's what happened when we lost [3-0] in Madrid but I don't expect that again." What he would obviously prefer is a repeat of Sweden's 2-0 success in Stockholm which preceded that reverse at the Santiago Bernabéu.
While Spain are likely to select the same eleven as against Russia, Lagerbäck has an important decision regarding Zlatan Ibrahimović. With the front man still recovering from knee problems, there may be a case to restrict his minutes against Spain. "The good news is that he felt no pain after the last match or in training," said the coach. "His work with Henrik [Larsson] is top quality and Henrik is back at this tournament simply because he still fulfils every criterion of the modern international striker." How Spain cope with the former FC Barcelona forward will go a long way to settling this fascinating encounter.