GELENDZHIK, Russia (Reuters) - Sweden’s strong collective is aiming to make life difficult for their more illustrious English counterparts when the two sides meet in their World Cup quarter-final clash on Saturday.
The Swedes trained at their hotel on the Black Sea before departing for Samara where they will face England in their first World Cup last eight match since 1994, when they came third in the tournament.
“All we (can) do is focus on our own game. We’ve proven to other people and to ourselves that when we’re at the right level we can make it very difficult for teams, and we’re not going to try to do anything else against England,” midfielder Sebastian Larsson told reporters.
Larsson has spent his adult life in England playing for a variety of clubs in England’s top two divisions, and with a move back to Sweden and AIK already secured, this might be the last English fans get to see of the 33-year-old.
“It’s a game I’m really looking forward to, it’s the quarter-finals of the World Cup and for me personally to be going up against England, the country where I spent 17 years, it’s obviously a little bit special,” he said.
“We’ve got huge respect for England, they’ve got quality players all over the pitch, they’re a good team, but for us, like we have been doing for most of this tournament, we’re trying to focus mostly on ourselves.”
After knocking out Italy in a qualification playoff for Russia, the Swedes won a group containing world champions Germany before defeating Switzerland in the last 16, but England will be a step up again for Larsson and his team mates.
“We know we have to reach our own standards, which is very close to our maximum like we have done, and that’s the only way to win football games at this level,” he said.
Larsson’s midfield partner Albin Ekdal had a scan on a twisted ankle on Wednesday but was back training on Thursday and is expected to start against England, and striker Ola Toivonen is ready for another tough day of running.
Toivonen scored in the 2-1 loss to Germany but otherwise it’s been slim pickings for him and fellow striker Marcus Berg due to the amount of unselfish running demanded of them by coach Janne Andersson’s defensive system.
“We know our game, we know we’re not going to have the ball as much, but we need to do the work for the team,” Toivonen said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge