Lagerback plots to keep record intact

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The Independent Football

Heavy rain, or rather a blinding downpour that almost swept half the city away with it, delayed Sweden's flight to Cologne yesterday. The course of their first two games in this World Cup has also not run smooth.

But as they emerged to discuss the prospects of facing England there was one clear message from their coach, Lars Lagerback. It is that, even though it was couched in the politest of terms, Sweden believe they have the measure of their opponents.

"I've my own theory," Lagerback said when asked why it is 38 years and 13 matches since England last beat his country. "We have had many, many players playing in the Premier League for many years and they know the English players and their mentality. It's always been a positive challenge when we play England."

Of the XI expected to start only two - the captain, Olof Mellberg, and striker Freddie Ljungberg - actually play their club football in England although another five have done so in the past while Henrik Larsson's contribution in Scotland needs no elaboration.

"There's a lot of character in our squad," Lagerback said. "And when we play against big nations we have always had good matches even if we have not always won. I'm rather positive."

In saying that, he admitted he would be happy with a draw even though it would mean that Sweden would only qualify as runners-up and would not get the extra day of rest that the winners are accorded.

"The important thing for us is to play the way we want to play and at least get a draw," Lagerback said. "We have a game plan that suits."

That plan, which may alter depending on what happens in the other Group E fixture, includes making what the coach predicted would be "a very tight game" even tighter. "It's very important that as a team we close the space for England and don't give them so much time," Lagerback added.

He skirted around the issue of his opponents' form, preferring to highlight their defensive "solidity" and the "high level of players" that they have.

"It is difficult to judge what is good football or not," Lagerback offered when asked about the way England have played. He was perhaps mindful of the fact that neither have Sweden set the world on fire although he professed himself to be happy at the way his team is playing - although unhappy that they missed so many chances.

They have certainly created more than England. Wayne Rooney will start the game and Lagerback stated that "a fit Rooney is a world-class player and any team would like a player like that". Nevertheless he said that there were no special plans to deal with the striker.

Sweden's own star striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, may be a surprise inclusion, at least on the bench. He has recovered quicker than expected from a groin injury and trained with the rest of the squad yesterday. He is, however, woefully out of touch and so Marcus Allback is due to start.

Kallstrom is a playmaker with potential: Dead-ball specialist needs to sparkle at tip of diamond midfield

The Swedes have long held out hopes that the 24-year-old will be their midfield playmaker but he has struggled, at times, to deliver and has often been supplanted by the older Anders Svensson as the tip of the usual diamond formation. After 36 caps, and having made his international debut more than five years ago, he has to become more forceful in demanding possession. He is two-footed although he tends to favour his left and has a good shot from distance. Also a dead-ball specialist. Recently moved from Rennes to Lyon in France after spurning overtures to come to the Premiership. Best remembered by English fans as the man who supplied the pass for Zlatan Ibrahimovic's winning goal the last time the two countries met a couple of years ago in Kallstrom's home town, Gothenburg.