The only shooting practice for Sweden ahead of their World Cup warm-up fixture against the Republic of Ireland was at the end of a photographer's lens. Having reached the finals, they used the four-day gathering in Dublin as a way of working out how they will actually get to Germany. Logistics, details of when each player's season ends, flight timetables, hotel reservations and training camp information were pored over instead of tactics and team play. The preparations also included autograph-signing sessions for tournament merchandising - and a photo-shoot for their official pictures. It's why the injured Fredrik Ljungberg stayed on until the eve of the game.
The Irish were hardly discussed at all. And it showed. A 3-0 defeat at the hands of a vibrant and resurgent side managed, for the first time, by Steve Staunton was deserved. But, even so, it was a shock. Among the most surprised was the midfielder Anders Svensson. "They outran us, they outskilled us," he said of the Irish. "It's a tough lesson. And there's still a lot of work to do to get this team ready for the World Cup."
Svensson was a second-half substitute at Lansdowne Road, earning his 65th cap, and did not start primarily because he has moved from Southampton back to Elfsborg - the Swedish club he left to go to England - and the domestic season does not begin until next month. "I'm not in top form at the moment," he admitted. "But I'm getting there. In a month I'll be stronger and quicker."
Sweden must hope that the transformation before the summer is not just with Svensson's fitness. They, of course, are in Group B, the same as England, and are well aware of what to expect when they meet in Cologne on 20 June in the final group game. "We are quite similar and quite used to the English way of playing football, but we know it's still going to be a tough game for us," the 29-year-old midfielder, one of 11 players in the squad to have played in Britain, said. "England are the favourites but we know we can match them and beat them; we've done that before and can do it again."
That was in reference to Sweden's astonishing record against England. "It's been a lot of years since they beat us," Svensson stated. Almost 38, in fact. Since 1968 the two countries have met 11 times, with Sweden victorious in four and drawing seven matches. "Maybe it means they [England] are closer to winning," Svensson said. "Because some time they are going to do it. But hopefully not this summer."
His own time in England ended unhappily after four years with Southampton's relegation from the Premiership, although he had made up his mind to leave before then. Not that he is moti-vated by any notion of revenge. "They are a tough opponent and that's all I see. It's not something that I dream about," he said of his reaction when the draw was made. "I have a few friends there and I will get stick if we lose." However, Svensson added of the Swedish players: "We've talked about it and we're confident that we can beat any team."
The playmaker, and former pin-up of Swedish football, featured prominently in the last World Cup. Indeed, he scored one of the goals of the competition with his wonderful free-kick against Argentina, and almost bettered that against Senegal with a brilliantly nimble turn and shot before his side lost on the so-called "golden goal". However, he believes that his country have improved since then.
"We played quite well in the last World Cup and we were unlucky to go out," he said. "But we've got some new, young, really talented players coming in. Very skilful players, which is maybe what we didn't have in 2002. I think we've kept our organisation and strength as a team, so I would say we are probably better. But going into the last championship we played England, didn't play well for 45 minutes, got a break, got a goal back and started playing."
A draw may suit Sweden again, although Svensson said he is well aware of the threat also posed by Paraguay - who won the last time the two nations met - and Trinidad and Tobago. "I played at Southampton with Kenwyne Jones," he said of the Trinidad striker. "I thought he was a skilful player, is very physically strong with a good technique, and he's not even in their starting XI. So they can't be bad."
England, Svensson said, are also more formidable. "I think they are stronger than four years ago. The likes of Rooney. He's older and more experienced. Lampard is one of the best in the world. Steven Gerrard as well. I think they have an excellent team and, maybe, the strongest they have had for some time."
Sweden's loss - and poor display, the worst, according to their coach, Lars Lagerback, since his first game in charge against Spain in 1998 - to Ireland may also fuel England's confidence, especially as they appeared so disorganised and vulnerable in defence. They have two more friendly matches, against Chile and Finland, before going to Germany.
"We played well in qualifying and won most of our games," said Svensson. Sweden scored 30 and conceded just four in finishing second to Croatia and qualifying as best-performing runner-up to reach their 11th World Cup. "Usually we are a hard team to beat and now we have lost 3-0, and I think that's a tough lesson. Maybe it's something we needed to make sure we work as hard as we have to if we want to do well at the World Cup. We all know now what will happen if we don't perform."Reuse content