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Sweden flagWorld Soccer: How is Erik Hamren’s Sweden different to ex-coach Lagerback’s?

Johan Elmander: With Lars Lagerback we were more defensive. We won many games 1-0 and were very consistent. Erik has more of a bounce-and-go mentality. He had to change his approach a bit after that setback in Holland, though. Now we are able to play well defensively as well.

We play higher on the pitch, press more and try to win back the ball quickly. We are not as wimpy as before, we dare more. Now we can adapt our style according to the opponents but without abandoning our philosophy.

They also have different personalities…

Yes, Erik is open and talks a lot. Lagerback was more reserved; some people said he was boring. Erik focuses on the big picture, for example what we eat, and wants a strong and cohesive group where everyone should feel comfortable to talk and give critique.

Are Sweden a better team now?

That’s a difficult question. We had some fantastic players in Fredrik Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson, but now we have a good mix of experience and youth. I guess we will have to see after the Euros if we are better now.

What of Sweden’s group?

It’s difficult but not impossible. The first game against Ukraine is the key game for us. They are on paper the worst team in the group. Sure, it is their home ground, but if we can go 1-0 up there will be a lot of pressure on them and their defence might crack when they push forward. Host nations usually do well but trends are there to be broken. I prefer to play them first.

And the other two opponents?

England and France are out for revenge for earlier failures. France has not had a good championship in many years but Laurent Blanc seems to have sorted out a lot of the problems and they haven’t lost in a long time. I am sure the players want to prove themselves after what happened in South Africa. If everything falls into place they can go very far in the tournament. When you look at England it feels like they have a good team and can be a positive surprise. I’m only too glad that Wayne Rooney can’t play against us. He is in great form and their key player.

What can give Sweden the edge? 

Being the underdogs suits us perfectly. We showed against Croatia in February that we can play really well and we are very confident going into the tournament. We usually perform on top against better teams. We have a good record against England and we know Ukraine really well.

Because of your versatility you have been placed on the wing a lot. How do you feel about that?

I prefer to play in the centre, but I am always proud to represent Sweden, no matter where I play.

What’s it like playing alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what he is going to do and then, all of a sudden, you have the ball at your feet. He takes a lot of responsibility on the pitch and is a fantastic passer, not just a goalscorer. He looks stronger than ever. Against Croatia he played as the No10 while I was the sole striker and we found each other in a way which we have only managed a few times before. It looked very interesting.

Are you in your best form ever?

Maybe. During the last year-and-a-half I have been able to show what I am capable of. I believe in myself and that self-confidence makes me calm. I don’t get stressed if I have one bad game. I owe a lot to Owen Coyle who took over at Bolton from Gary Megson, who over a long period had broken me down.

Who will win Euro 2012?

Germany. They are always strong and it feels like it is their turn. Spain play beautiful football but some time the success has to end for them.

Interview by Johanna Gara


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