Tuesday 24 April 2018

Larsson insists Swedes won’t underestimate ‘fighting’ Irish

Philip O'Connor

Sweden's Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson is relishing the prospect of meeting his Black Cats team-mates on the pitch in Friday's World Cup qualifier in Stockholm – especially winger James McClean.

"He's another one of those tricky players, you don't really know what to expect from him," Larsson said as the Swedes trained in snowy Stockholm.

With several of his club team-mates in the Irish squad, the affable Swede says he's determined to head back to Wearside with the crucial three points in the bag.

"When you come up against your team-mates you always want to win that little bit extra. We know it's a massive game for both teams. We both want to take charge of that second spot, and by winning this game either team could do that."

After two high-profile friendlies against England and Argentina, Larsson is looking forward to the first competitive international at the new Friends Arena, and he is hoping that the Swedes can take advantage of being on home turf.

That turf may cause a few problems; as recently as Sunday the Friends Arena was used as an ice rink, and the new pitch is only being laid this week.

But that and the recent controversy over whether the roof should be open or closed makes no difference to Larsson.

"Honestly? I couldn't really care less about it. For the players on the pitch it's not going to make any difference. We're going to be running around, so we'll be keeping warm anyway!

"It's more for the spectators that come to watch the game – it would be nicer for them if the roof was closed, but for me it doesn't matter." Asked if the fact that many of Ireland's players ply their trade in the Championship would make it easier for Sweden, Larsson said the opposite was probably the case.

"It's actually one of the hardest leagues you can play in, even if quality is sacrificed for tempo," said Larsson, who spent some time in the Championship with Birmingham City.

With plenty of battle-hardened veterans in the Irish side, he expects a tough challenge.

"When the Irish team go away from home they're not going to give anything away cheaply. They're going to be solid, they're going to work very hard. Whatever happens they're going to be right in there, fighting until the last second."

Following Ireland's crushing defeat to Germany, and Sweden's miraculous comeback from four goals down to draw 4-4 in Berlin, many Swedish soccer fans are expecting an easy game against Ireland – but not Larsson.

"If you look at their record in qualifiers over the last few years, it's a very good record. We're not expecting to be given anything on the cheap.

"The Irish aren't a team you can wear down, you can't get them to hang their heads. If we take the lead we'll have to stay focused, because they'll keep going."

Irish Independent

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