Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Spain, Sweden look to win again

AP , NEUSTIFT, AUSTRIA

Spain's Fernando Torres, right, signs a supporter's shirt after a training session on Thursday in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria.

PHOTO: AP

Familiar rivals Spain and Sweden head into a European Championship match where a win will likely be enough to get through to the quarter-finals.

Both teams go into today’s Group D game at the Tivoli NEU stadium after opening victories that confirmed their offensive potential. David Villa scored a hat trick — the first ever by a Spanish player in the event — to lead Spain over Russia 4-1, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s long-range strike pushed Sweden past defending champions Greece 2-0.

So for this second group game, defense is looking key.

“They are a very difficult side. They have great pace on the counterattack and some great forwards,” Spain coach Luis Aragones said. “They are definitely a rival to worry about.”

Aragones knows about the Swedish attack after seeing the best and worst of it in European qualifying. A 2-0 loss in Sweden left Spain with three of a possible nine points to start, but by the time of a 3-0 return leg victory the Spanish were on their way to clinching the group.

For Aragones, today’s match has taken on a personal tone.

“Every one of my four losses as national coach is a thorn in my side,” said Aragones, who has 34 victories and 11 draws in the other 45 matches coached since he took over a team that failed to progress from the group stage at Euro 2004.

If Aragones sticks with the same starting lineup that ran roughshod over Russia, and Villa and strike partner Fernando Torres are given space to display their pace and touch, then Spain, which can also count on a talented midfield that includes Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, will have little too worry about in attack.

“Where the Greeks chose to play long they will probably not play long,” Sweden striker Henrik Larsson said. “They are very, very skilled at passing.”

Holding midfielder Marcos Senna should back up Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva in the middle, with Cesc Fabregas likely to come on as a substitute. The Arsenal star scored an injury-time header after setting up Villa for his third.

Spain will be more concerned about their defense stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Larsson.

Left back Joan Capdevila was superb while center backs Carles Puyol and Carlos Marchena were steady against Russia. The surprise came from the right, where Sergio Ramos looked sluggish.

For Sweden Ibrahimovic is expected to start despite a bothersome left knee, while Larsson admitted he is still not quite match fit after featuring in a competitive match for Sweden for the first time since the 2006 World Cup.

“It’s been a long time since I played a match at this level and pace, so perhaps one gets a bit more tired than one should,” the 36-year-old Helsingborg striker said. “Today I feel pretty good.”

“It’s going to get better and better. So I’m not at all worried about being 100 percent recovered,” he said.

For either team to advance it will depend on the result of Group D’s other match between Greece and Russia. Sweden would prefer the three points but will also settle for a draw.

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