Sweden enters its final European Championship game against France with a quarterfinal place out of reach and the fate of its group rivals riding on the result. The Swedes say they won’t lack motivation.
“We’re playing for pride,” Sweden striker Johan Elmander said in an interview. “We’re going to give everything to win the game because it’s not that fun to leave this country without any points. We’re going to go for it.”
Sweden, which lost its opening two games at the 16-nation soccer tournament, faces France in Kiev tomorrow at the same time England plays co-host Ukraine in Donetsk. England and France have four points in Group D, one more than Ukraine, and a Swedish victory could eliminate the French.
Sweden has played at five previous European Championships and is yet to lose all its group games at the four-yearly event. The only time it suffered a sweep of losses at a major tournament was at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
The Swedes squandered leads in both matches last week. They were a goal up against Ukraine on June 11 before striker Andrei Shevchenko scored with two headers. Four days later against England, they rallied from a goal down to lead 2-1 before slipping to a 3-2 loss after Danny Welbeck scored with 12 minutes remaining.
Defender Andreas Granqvist, who allowed Andy Carrol to get above him to head England’s opening goal, said Sweden’s players have a responsibility to perform at their highest level, knowing they can still have a say on who advances.
“We are professional so we are going to do our best,” he said in an interview. “Everyone is disappointed and we want to finish the competition in good style.”
Sweden hasn’t beaten France since a 2-0 win in October 1969 and has lost six of the 11 meetings the teams have had since then. France is unbeaten in its past 23 matches.
Anders Svensson, a 35-year-old midfielder, said he doesn’t care who advances to the last eight, though wants the team to reward the more than 20,000 Swedish fans who traveled to Ukraine with a victory.
“We owe it to ourselves, to Sweden, to the fans who’ve paid a lot of money coming down here supporting us,” he said.
Having already played Ukraine and England, the Swedish players have an insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
Svensson, Christian Wilhelmsson and Elmander, three players with experience from the English Premier League, backed England to secure a quarterfinal spot by avoiding defeat in Donetsk.
“England is the best team we’ve played against if you’re comparing them to Ukraine,” said Elmander, who played for three seasons with Bolton Wanderers. “They have a lot of players injured but they’re still strong and always fight for 90 minutes. You can’t relax against them.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at email@example.com