No Clear Favorite in Sweden versus Russia Battle | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 18.06.2008
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No Clear Favorite in Sweden versus Russia Battle

With seven of the eight Euro quarter-final spots settled, the only question is whether Russia or Sweden will claim the final place. DW-WORLD.DE looks ahead at the two teams' do-or-die clash in Innsbruck, Austria.

Swedish fans

Sweden fans are putting their hopes on a veteran squad

With good reason, bookmakers were offering roughly the same odds on the two Northern European football sides before their final Group D match.

Sweden have a slight advantage in that their better goal difference would mean they would progress in case of a draw. Russia, on the other hand, is slightly ahead historically -- they've won eight of the two teams' previous encounters to Sweden's seven.

Sweden know what it's like to get to the Euro quarter-finals -- they did so in the last tournament in 2004. But Russia have youth on their side. The average age of their squad is just over 26, compared with more than 29 for the Swedes.

So current form as well as personnel issues could be the deciding factors.

Ibrahimovic worries

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates

Sweden hopes Zlatan will be flying high again against Russia

A fan favorite in past years, Sweden have created few highlights this time round. Their 2-0 win over Greece was one of the dreariest matches of the tournament, and they did little but defend when they lost to Spain on Saturday.

Two of Sweden's mainstays -- midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and striker Henrik Larsson -- are well into their thirties and appear to have lost a step. And they have injuries worries as well, after forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was unable to practice with a gimpy knee.

Ibrahimovic is Sweden's most potent offensive threat, having scored two of the team's three goals ion the tournament thus far.

Should he be unable to play, his likely replacement would be Werder Bremen striker Markus Rosenberg, but he's yet to show he can generate much of the threat at this level.

Russia get a boost

Russia's Andrei Arshavin during training

Russia's Arshavin is back on the pitch

Russian newspapers may have deemed the team's 4-1 loss to Spain a disgrace, but the Russians generated a decent number of chances in that match. And they comfortably handled Greece, scoring the only goal they needed in the first half.

Russia will also be welcoming back playmaker Andrei Arshavin, who returns from a two-game suspension.

Arshavin was the man of the match in his club side Zenit St. Peterburg's win in this year's UEFA Cup final, and the fleet-footed Russian had three goals and five assists in the Euro qualifiers.

Russia's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink also has a good record with outsiders in major competitions, having gotten South Korea through the final four in the 2002 World Cup.

Fishy affair

Roman Pavlyuchenko scores against Spain

The "caviar kids" have recovered nicely from their opening loss to Spain

The match-up hasn't attracted a lot of attention outside the two countries concerned, and both the Swedish and Russian press have generally restrained themselves to expressions of cautious optimism.

But Sweden's tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet did its best to stir up a bit of heat with an article playing on the stereotype of nouveau riche Russians.

The story featured a picture of humble Swedes staying in a camper van while the rich Russkies whooped it up in a hotel room.

The Russia-Sweden match was a battle of "caviar versus mackerel," quipped Aftonbladet.

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