LINUS LINDAHL /AIPS* in DUBAI: Nigeria are favourites against every team they face, particularly with their massive support in the stands. But Sweden are determined to extend their surprising run all the way to the final in the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.
”We have nothing to lose,” said coach Roland Larsson. “I think anyone who works in youth football in the world cannot imagine that we are in the semi-final.”
The teams’ last meeing, in the group stage, was a wake-up call for Nigeria. Sweden quickly took a 2-0-lead and, after the Africans came back, even led again by 3-2. It ended 3-3 and was a match that Larsson ranked as one of his highlights as a coach of a youth national team.
He said: “It was a really good football game, one of the best on youth level that I have seen. High intensity, two different kind of teams and with a lot of good players on the pitch. This is going to be a different game. We are prepared, and of course we have to win.”
Beside Larsson, at his pre-match press conference in the Rashid Stadium, sat Anton Jönsson Salétros – a joker in the Swedish squad who started against Nigeria but has not played regularly from the first minute in this competition.
However the AIK midfielder scored in the first match against Iraq and has two assists – one of them the pass which Valmur Berisha backheeled for a goal in the quarter-final win over Honduras.
Salétros said: “I have started two matches and began on the bench the other matches but it does not matter. I think. It is not only about 11 players in this team, it is about 21 players who are playing for each other. I still feel fresh because I have not played so much.”
Larsson talked a lot about the Nigerian team’s strengths and not only on the pitch. The teams stay at the same hotel in Dubai with one floor between each other.
He said: “I think the Nigerian team is a very nice team to play against and even meet outside the pitch. They are happy people, nice to speak with. We have said: May the best team win, it is fair play. I think that is good when you compete at the pitch but are football friends outside the pitch.”
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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