Injury forces Ljungberg to pull out of Greece match

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The Independent Football

Frederik Ljungberg, the Arsenal midfielder, has withdrawn from Sweden's friendly tonight against Greece because of a shoulder injury.

The Arsenal player said a shoulder injury he suffered two weeks ago worsened in the team's Premier League opener against Everton on Saturday. "After that the pain has increased and when the medical team examined me ... we agreed that it's better if I refrain from practising and playing to recover fully," he said.

Tommy Soderberg, Sweden's coach since 1998, will retire from the national team after the European Championships in Portugal next year - or before, if Sweden fail to qualify.

Soderberg and co-coach Lars Lagerback, who was promoted from assistant coach in 2000, led Sweden to the second round in last year's World Cup. They have also secured an impeccable record in qualifying matches. Sweden has played 23 European Championship and World Cup qualifiers without a loss and currently tops its Euro 2004 qualifying group.

On the eve of Germany's match against Italy, captain Oliver Kahn criticised clubs for using slight injuries as a pretext for refusing to let their players play for the national team.

"We can't tolerate that players, under pressure from their clubs, don't come because their left foot is hurting a little bit," said Germany's goalkeeper. Germany will be missing eight players when they take on Italy today in Stuttgart's Gottlieb-Daimler stadium. "It's ridiculous how many people we are missing," Kahn said. "The last time we were at full strength was in 1996."

He added that Brazilian players reported for national team duty "even if they had to carry their heads in their arms."

The striker Fredi Bobic also criticised the German clubs. "The clubs keep on putting players under more and more pressure to cancel national team games because of slight injuries," Bobic said."Even if a player is not fully fit he should at least show up in the national team headquarters and get treated there," Bobic said.

Bobic added that his criticism was not directed at the Bayern midfielder Michael Ballack who has been left out of the squad because of a calf injury that prevented him from playing in the league at the weekend. "[Ballack] has always sacrificed himself for the national team," Bobic said.

In addition to Ballack, the German coach, Rudi Völler, will be without several defenders or defensive midfielders. They include Christoph Metzelder, Torsten Frings, Dietmar Hamann, Christian Ziege, Jörg Böhme and Jens Nowotny.

Italy will not be at full strength either, missing the AC Milan defender Alessandro Nesta and Inter Milan midfielder Cristiano Zanetti.