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09 Jun 2006 10:53
Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago kick off their World Cup campaigns on Saturday with both teams pinning their hopes on two 34-year-olds looking to shine once more in the twilight of their careers.
The Swedes, tipped to qualify alongside England from Group B, will be buoyed by the evergreen Henrik Larsson, who proved that he’s lost none of his magic with his super-sub appearance for Barcelona in last month’s Champions League win.
Meanwhile, Yorke, a member of Manchester United’s 1999 treble-winning team is determined to make the most of the Caribbean side’s first appearance at the finals.
Swedish hopes, meanwhile, were hit a late blow when first choice goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson was ruled out of the game after being flattened by a shot in the face from teammate Kim Kallstrom.
Coach Lars Lagerback will have to choose between Viborg’s John Alvbage and Fredrikstad’s Egyptian-born Rami Shabaan.
Twelve years have passed since a dreadlocked Larsson first came to prominence at USA 94, where Sweden surprised everyone by finishing third.
But though the dreadlocks have long since been lopped off, Larsson says he is every bit the player he was a decade ago, and is revelling in his decision to reverse his international retirement in 2004.
“I feel as fit now as I did ten years ago. The older I get the stronger I get,” said Larsson, the 2001 Golden Boot winner who has 34 international goals.
“The game against Trinidad and Tobago is very important for us and we must go out and do our very best.
The goal must of course be that in the long run we can go all the way to the final.
“We are more or the less same players in the squad compared with four years ago, which means more experience, which is good for everyone in the squad.”
Trinidad and Tobago, better known as the home of cricket superstar Brian Lara than for its footballers, start the tournament as 1Â 000-to-one outsiders and are seen as the whipping boys of the group, which is made up by Paraguay.
They rely on a ragtag army of players drawn from leagues far and wide.
Of their 23 players, only four ply their trade in the Caribbean, so wily old coach Leo Beenhakker has pulled together men whose clubs are in England, Scotland, Wales and the United States.
But it is veteran attacker Yorke, once of Manchester United and now of Sydney in Australia, who will carry his country’s hopes into their debut appearance secured by a tough qualifying campaign, topped off by a play-off win against Bahrain.
“We are going to compete. We have a fifty-fifty chance like everybody else,” said Yorke of his team’s chances.
“We have been in situations where we were perhaps the better team and didn’t get the results. Its 11 versus 11 and we are in Germany with that mentality.”—AFP
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