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Spain and Sweden eye Euro 2008 quarter-final spot

SoccerNews in European Championships, La Liga 14 Jun 2008

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Either Spain or Sweden could wrap up a place in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals if they emerge triumphant from the pair's Group D meeting here on Saturday.

Both won their opening matches with Spain particularly impressive in dismantling Russia 4-1 while Sweden defeated the holders Greece 2-0.

Those results put the pair in pole position to qualify from the group and a victory for either one on Saturday would virtually assure their progress to the next stage.

And while Sweden were gritty and controlled in breaking down the negative Greeks, thanks in no small part to the continued brilliance of veteran forward Henrik Larsson and a moment of magic from Inter Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Spain sizzled in their destruction of Guus Hiddink's Russia.

It has all left the coach of the perennial underachievers feeling boisterous as Spain go in search of their first international title in 44 years.

“My only desire is to win as many matches for Spain as possible and because my life view is that the glass is always half full, not half empty, I neither get carried away with victory nor does defeat destroy me,” said Luis Aragones.

“Every one of my four losses as national coach is a thorn in my side, particularly one of them (defeat to France in the World Cup two years ago).

“Defeat lingers in my heart, it bounces around my brain. If I've a message for Spain's magnificent fans it is that this group of players is here to win the tournament at all costs.”

One of their vital cogs is Liverpool forward Fernando Torres, whom Aragones surprisingly hauled off just 10 minutes into the second half of the Russia game.

And Aragones admitted the striker wasn't happy about being substituted but he insisted that his thinking was just.

“I understand if Fernando's a little ticked off with me because this happened to me as a player and I know how I felt,” he said.

“But my thinking is that every footballer who comes off early is irritated with himself more than anything else. That's how I always reacted.”

For Spanish fullback Joan Capdevila, it is quite clear where his priority will lie in stopping Sweden from operating – keeping Ibrahimovic quiet.

“He is a striker who is extremely difficult to handle,” said the Villarreal player.

“It is imperative that we keep an eye on him round the area. This is going to be one of the keys to the match. We have to ensure our defensive line keeps its form.”

The Swedes, for their part, are expecting few surprises against the technically gifted Spaniards, though they will miss the vastly experienced defender Niclas Alexandersson who has a calf strain.

“We know Spain very well because we played them twice during the qualifiers,” said Sweden coach Lars Lagerback. “They are a very technical team who don't give you many chances.”

“It's clear that they are very fast in the middle of the park, they like to have the ball at their feet but my team showed against Greece that they can work very hard.

“I was really delighted because they implemented almost to perfection the style of play I asked of them.”

During the qualifiers the honours were shared between the two teams, Sweden winning 2-0 at home before going down 3-0 in Spain.

“They're very technical, very physical also. I think the match will be similar to the one against Greece, we will have to be patient,” added Lagerback who claimed this game would be decisive.

“This match will decide the group standings,” he added.

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