Sweden and Holland meet tonight in Faro for a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2004.
Sweden come into the game brimming with confidence after topping Group C, scoring eight goals along the way. For Holland, a disappointing start against Germany, has now been forgotten and with so many of pre-tournament favourites dropping by the wayside, the Dutch must fancy their chances of going all the way.
Joint coach Lars Lagerback, while impressed with the way in which his side have finished matches, hopes against Holland that they will start the game more brightly.
“We have started slowly in the first half in our games so far but have gone on to dominate in the second,” Lagerback said.
“Maybe it will be the same against the Dutch but I want us to have the ball more from the start of the game. That’s what we’re hoping for and aiming for.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is relishing the prospect of facing some of his team mates from Ajax, accepts that Holland will start the game as favourites.
“This will be the most difficult game for Sweden but we will try our best.
“Holland are favourites but anything can happen in football and we are going to be 100% focused. We know that we can beat them if we play at our best.”
Ibrahimovich’s striking partner, Henrik Larsson, encounters a familiar foe in Dutch coach Dick Advocaat.
“I have played against teams coached by Dick Advocaat in Holland and Scotland and I intend to surprise him,” said Larsson.
“I haven’t seen them that much this tournament but I know a lot of them.
“I’ve played against a lot of them. It’s a very good side and It’s going to be a difficult game but we have to believe in our team.”
“We have now set new targets and we believe in our team strength and our own capabilities.”
Meanwhile, for Holland, skipper Phillip Cocu has warned his team mates about the threat posed by Sweden’s strikers.
“Sweden are very organised and their players are mentally very strong. We will have to be particularly aware of their forwards,” he explained.
“Henrik Larsson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fredrik Ljungberg have great quality and we cannot give them any chances.”
“The Swedes have a very structured side as they have shown in their past games.
Winger Arjen Robbe, one of the discoveries of the tournament, acknowledges the threat posed by Sweden, but remains confident the Dutch will prevail.
“Sweden have a strong team with a lot of physical power. Their best quality can be found in their attack,” he said.
“But we will have a chance against them. We are confident that we can get a possible result on Saturday.”
Sweden will give a late fitness test to right-back Teddy Lucic, who has been out since suffering a rib injury during his side’s opening match against Bulgaria. Lucic would fill in for Erik Edman, who is suspended for the quarter-final after picking up a second booking of the tournament against Denmark.
Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy will start despite complaining of a sore groin. Wilfred Bouma is still out with an achilles injury, but fellow defender Johnny Heitinga is available again after serving a one-match suspension.
Holland seem at last to have settled their internal differences and since their disappointing showing against Germany, have looked a much more potent force. For once in a major tournament, their focus is upon their opponents rather than each other. Tonight they meet a genuine team, one in which the sum is greater than the individual components. It promises to be an intriguing encounter.
Holland: Van der Sar; Heitinga, Stam, De Boer, Van Bronckhorst; Seedorf, Cocu, Davids; Van der Meyde, Van Nistelrooy, Robben.
Sweden: Isaksson; Mellberg, Lucic, Wilhelmsson, Nilsson; Jakobsson, Liberoth, Ljungberg, Kallstrom, Jonson; Ibrahimovic, Larsson.
Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)