Football: Swedes see no need to change

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The Independent Online
DAVID BECKHAM may be a strong contender to be voted European Footballer of the Year - assuming it is one award that David Ginola does not steal from him - but Sweden will be making no special plans for coping with the Manchester United midfielder this afternoon. After losing only one of their last 11 matches, to the Republic of Ireland in a luke warm friendly six weeks ago, the Swedes see no reason to change tack or tactics at this stage.

"Our game plan will be based around zonal defence and compressing the space," said their coach, Tommy Soderberg, after his squad had tasted the atmosphere and tested the turf at Wembley yesterday. "So no man-marking of Beckham, because England have a lot of other good players."

Soderberg's assistant, Lars Lagerback, who tends to do most of his talking for him, believes that England's recent change of manager will make Sweden's task more difficult. "Of course they are not a totally new team, but you can see Kevin Keegan has already changed one or two things. They play 4-4-2 a bit more like the way we want to play. They're more direct than under Hoddle and put more crosses into the box. Our strength is our mentality. We don't have a huge amount of money in Swedish football and what you see is a group of players who take pride in playing for their country, not in the amount of money they can make."

The Bologna striker Kennet Andersson echoed that theme - "it's teamwork, we play for each other" - but was a little less impressed than some of his colleagues with Manchester United's achievements. "You have Manchester United winning the Champions' League, but Italian teams won the other European cups," he said.

Leicester City's Pontus Kaamark is likely to play at left-back and will, therefore, see plenty of Beckham, of whom he said: "He's one of the best in the world today and he's getting better and better. That's the most amazing thing about him. It must raise the ambition of England's team when a player like him is performing so well and is obviously now at the top of his game. You have to be thinking not only of qualifying for the European Championship but going on to mount a serious challenge and possibly winning it. England have so many players bursting with confidence, they're strong enough to be one of the top teams."

From a member of the team now five points ahead of England, this seemed to be taking Nordic modesty a little far. Arsenal's Fredrik Ljungberg, like Kaamark, has seen most members of the England squad at close quarters in the Premiership this season and also believes they will provide a much sterner challenge than in Stockholm last September. "Often when you go 1-0 down against top quality international sides, they will close the door. We were surprised how quickly we were able to hit back, although both our goals were a bit lucky. Once we'd taken the lead, we played just as we wanted."

"England will be more focussed now because they won't have any distractions off the pitch. When you are preoccupied by things that have little to do with football, it's impossible to get the right result. There were a lot of negative things going on before the game in Stockholm."

The generally relaxed demeanour of the squad reflects not just natural Scandinavian calmness but also an awareness of how well placed they are in the group, and of their fine record down the years against England. The captain and central defender Patrik Andersson said of that sequence of results: "Maybe it's because we know all about England's style of play - very physical, with plenty of long balls. Maybe it's easier to read the game against them. But they still have individuals who can change a game, like Beckham. We'd be happy with a draw."

Happy? Restricting England to one point by five o'clock this evening would have most countries turning somersaults.