Striker Henrik Larsson, his country’s designated penalty taker, turned down the chance to score a hat-trick from the spot during Sweden’s 5-0 win over Bulgaria because he thought it was important that his fellow striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, got on the scoresheet.
Larsson scored two goals in two minutes early in the second half before Sweden won a penalty in the 78th minute. But he declined the chance of a hat-trick, handing the ball to Ibrahimovic instead.
“It is more important that all the strikers score goals, it is better for the team,” Larsson told reporters. “Zlatan wanted to take it and he got his goal and by the end we had three strikers who all scored goals. That is good for everyone, for confidence and for the whole squad.”
“This is a great result for us, but we have to remember it is only the first group game and there is a long way to go,” added Larsson.
“Both of the crosses for my goals were excellent and I cannot remember a more enjoyable game for Sweden.
Sweden coach Lars endorsed Larsson’s decision to allow Ibrahimovich to take the penalty.
“It was entirely up to them and I was very happy at the way they took the decisions,” he said. “I am pleased about it actually. Tonight Henrik Larsson showed not only that he is a great player, but also that he is a great character and very special man.”
“We made some changes for the second half and then we played a marvellous 45 minutes,” he added.
“It was just about perfect. We scored goals and we didn’t give them any chances at all. But you have to be careful now, we don’t want to get carried away. We have to play an Italy that will be very focused on beating us next.”
Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov was impressed by the Swedes.
“This is a very good Sweden team, very strong, and they can go a long way in this tournament,” he said.
The result ended Sweden’s long run of first-night nerves since they last won their opening game at a major tournament in the 1958 World Cup on home soil.