England's most famous Swede will once again lead his adopted country against the nation of his birth after Sven Goran Eriksson's England team last night drew Sweden in next summer's World Cup final group stages for the second consecutive tournament. While Sweden will prove tough opponents, there was palpable relief when Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago were also drawn in England's Group B.
Eriksson has not beaten Sweden in three attempts as England manager his record is one defeat and two draws but the biggest concern from the first-round draw was that the second group match, against Dwight Yorke's Trinidad & Tobago, will be played in the city of Nuremberg. The southern German city has a historical association with the Nazi movement and has a significant far-right following prompting fears that England's estimated 100,000-strong support could be provoked into violence.
The first group game will be against Paraguay the fourth team to qualify out of South America in Frankfurt on 10 June before the match in Nuremberg on 15 June. Sweden is the last, and most compelling, game on 20 June in Cologne, and Eriksson last night emphasised the importance of winning the group to ensure that England have a relatively easy tie in the first knock-out round.
Should they come second to Sweden England could only manage a 1-1 draw with the Scandinavians at the 2002 World Cup then Eriksson's side could well face the hosts Germany. If England win Group B then they should face Poland, who they beat twice in qualifying, before having to overcome what could well be either Argentina or the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. One consolation is that they cannot meet Brazil until the semi-finals.
Eriksson said that he spoke to the Swedish coach Lars Lagerback before the draw and both agreed, he said, that "we didn't want to see each other in this World Cup". The England manager added: "But if you look at the whole group I am quite happy with it. It's not easy but it is not too bad. I would've changed Sweden given the choice but we could have met Holland and Australia, which we didn't want, so no complaints.
"Sweden know us 100 per cent and we know them 100 per cent. We have met them many times. Of course Tord and I follow Swedish football, not as well as English football. I haven't seen Paraguay in qualifying. We met them before the last World Cup [April 2002] and played well against them."
Under Eriksson, who could not prevent himself laughing when Sweden were drawn, England lost in Gothenburg in March 2004 in a game remembered chiefly for the failed experiment of playing Celtic's Alan Thompson on the left wing. The nations drew 1-1 in November 2001 at Old Trafford and the match in Japan was a 1-1 draw with a goal from Sol Campbell. But England have not beaten the Swedes since a 3-1 win in a friendly at Wembley in May 1968.
Lagerback, who was previously in joint control with Tommy Soderberg, said he was "a little bit unhappy" with the draw. "It seems like an old love story," he said. "We played England in the Euro 2000 qualifiers too and the record of 37 years without a defeat sounds like good music for us. Let's hope we can keep it playing. I think it is a kind of a love story. As you all know, England has had a lot of influence on Swedish football and we've had a lot of players playing in England."
Trinidad & Tobago, who are ranked 51st in the world and qualified for their first World Cup finals via a play-off against Bahrain, count Yorke as their best player. They also have the Port Vale midfielder Chris Birchall, who is unusual for being the only white player in the squad he qualified through his grandparents' nationality.
Birchall said: "It is the best possible group we could have got and I can't wait for Germany now. I don't think anyone knew about us before this draw but we've caused a few upsets and we've qualified when no one expected us to and people are taking us a bit seriously now because we defeated Mexico." While the rival Trinidad & Tobago supporters will not prove a problem in Nuremberg, there are fears that the far-right movement in Germany might use the occasion to provoke English fans. The stadium in the medieval city, which is also famous for its Christmas market, is right next to the parade ground for the Nazi Nuremberg rallies of 1936 to 1938. It was also where the Nazi war crimes trials were held from 1945 to 1949.
David Beckham said that, in Sweden, England faced "a familiar opponent". He added: "They are a team that both players and manager know well. I'm looking forward to playing my former [Manchester United] team-mate Dwight for Trinidad. We shared some great memories together. Paraguay are an unknown entity but we will be fully prepared, we need to show we are one of the favourites. If we work hard and play well, we have a good chance of winning this World Cup."
Whatever their misgivings about having to play in Nuremberg, or beating Sweden for the first time in 37 years, England, in Group B, will have been glad to avoid Group C the main contender for the title of "Group of Death". In that group, Argentina were drawn against the unseeded Netherlands, with Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast one of the most impressive qualifiers from Africa and Serbia & Montenegro.
Another tough grouping was Group E where Italy will find themselves up against Ghana the best qualifiers in Africa as well as the United States, one place outside the seedings, and the Czech Republic, who reached the semi-finals of Euro 2004. The champions Brazil will not have an easy ride either after drawing Croatia, Australia and Japan. The tournament will begin in Munich on 9 June when Germany face the central American team Costa Rica. The hosts' toughest game will be against Poland, who qualified in England's group, but with Ecuador the fourth team, Germany can be thankful for a relatively smooth ride.
While Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg, Aston Villa's Olof Mellberg and Barcelona's Henrik Larsson formerly of Celtic are well known to the English, the Swedes' greatest danger is posed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored the winner in the Gothenburg friendly. The Juventus striker scored seven goals in Sweden's World Cup qualifying campaign in which they won eight of their 10 Group Eight matches, finishing behind Croatia.
England beat Paraguay 3-0 in the 1986 Mexico World Cup group stages. More recently they faced the South American side in April 2002 in a friendly at Anfield and won 4-0. The Paraguay coach Anibal Ruiz said: "It's a tough group and we have to work hard to get through it but I believe we can."Reuse content