Sweden look for consistency

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson was just beginning a stilted, largely unimpressive career as a footballer when Sweden last lost to England.

England have met Sweden nine times since the 3-1 victory at Wembley in May 1968 and failed to win any of these encounters, although some reverses have mattered more than others. The 2-1 defeat in Stockholm in September 1998 began the slide which put Glenn Hoddle's triumphant return from the World Cup after a second-round elimination by Argentina into a truer perspective.

The 1-1 draw in Saitama that began both nations' World Cup campaign was, however, more useful to England than Sweden, who as they did in Euro 2000 qualified impressively before disappearing at a major international tournament. Portugal, where they are drawn in an awkward group including Italy, Bulgaria and Denmark, may be no different.

Tonight's encounter at the Ullevi Stadium is their first real test since securing their passage to the European Championship, and although they boast a more recognisable side than England, with five survivors from Saitama as opposed to possibly one in Eriksson's starting line-up, they have struggled for consistency on the pitch. Henrik Larsson's international retirement may prove a huge hurdle to overcome.

"It has been very difficult for us to get a settled side," the Sweden defender Olof Mellberg said yesterday. "We have struggled to get back to the level that we have achieved in the past.

"Everyone remembers that we finished third in the world in 1994. We were disappointed in the 2002 World Cup, although I would not argue we underperformed [they eliminated Argentina] because nobody thought we would get through the group.

"But having got that far, to go out immediately afterwards [to Senegal] was a very big blow."

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