Spain, Sweden eye quarterfinals berth

Updated: 16 June 2008 09:46 IST

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

NEUSTIFT, Austria:

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

Both teams go into Saturday'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 champion 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 at 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, Saturday'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 its defense stopping 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.

Aragones expects the Real Madrid defender, who Paolo Maldini once said would be the best defender in the world, to recover.

"It wasn't one of his best games and he pushed up less than other times, but at the best he could have just played forward more," the 69-year-old Aragones said. "He's a pillar in this defense."

If Ramos strays, Ibrahimovic and Larsson will be ready to take advantage as long as fitness allows them to. Ibrahimovic is expected to start despite a bothersome left knee, while Larsson, who played at FC Barcelona, 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."

That's more than coach Lars Lagerback can say for the players expected to back up the two strikers.

Midfielder Christian Wilhemsson is likely to miss the remainder of the tournament after pulling his left hamstring against Greece, while fullback Niclas Alexandersson ruled himself out against Spain because of a calf injury.

Defensive midfielder Tobias Linderoth is also not 100 percent which leaves Daniel Andersson as his likely replacement after performing well against Greece.

"Fitness-wise, I think we're going to be fine," said Sebastian Larsson, who is expected to replace Wilhemsson on Sweden's right flank. "We know we have to have a lot of patience against Spain as well. They keep the ball very well and you can't give them too much space because they'll use it against you."

Sweden's defense will have to be ready for a different pace to the Greeks, who managed 10 shots in their match _ five on goal. Spain had a total of 21 shots against the Russians, with 12 on goal.

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.

"You always want to win but you never know," Sebastian Larsson said. "Depends on what the game is like. If it's a draw, it's a draw. It gives us another point."

Topics : Football Spain Turkey Germany
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