From SHAUN CUSTIS
SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON reckons Zlatan Ibrahimovic will plunge England into despair tonight.
Former Three Lions boss Eriksson tips Sweden’s dangerman to hit the winner and get revenge on the English critics who do not rate him.
Eriksson said: “Zlatan is an international star and can trick any player.
“He would score goals for any Premier League team and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zlatan scores the goal that wins the game.
“That would silence his critics in England — maybe for ever.”
Eriksson claims England players have too often under-estimated Sweden down the years. He believes they fool themselves into thinking it will be an easy game as the Scandinavians have never been regarded as a European powerhouse.
Yet in the seven competitive internationals between the two sides, England have NEVER won — drawing five and losing two.
Eriksson said: “In two tournaments as England manager I told my team ‘Sweden is a very tough opponent, it’s in the heart and soul of every Swede to make life miserable for England’.
“I don’t have to remind people that the games in 2002 and 2006 ended in a great English disappointment.
“Most football-crazy Swedes grew up with English football. They have followed the Premier League on television and know all the names of the stars and the biggest personalities.
“The consequence is that a Swedish player always works a little bit harder when they play England. It’s like a derby to them.
“And that makes Sweden a nasty rival.”
Eriksson admitted that he was edgy when facing his homeland because he was so well aware how up for it the Swedes were.
He said: “For me it was always inspiring but I was also very nervous to play my home country.
“Both times I tried to get into the players’ and the journalists’ heads, just to really get them to realise that Sweden isn’t an easy opponent. And, of course, I used myself as an example. I said: ‘I’m a Swede. For me this game is extra important’.
“Sometimes I could sense that they under-estimated Sweden — that our English squad thought that it would be an easy game.
“I was right, I’m afraid. In the first game in Japan, Sol Campbell bombed in the 1-0 goal with his head.
“But then Danny Mills had a dreadful failure of a pass. Niclas Alexandersson got hold of the ball and hit it in with his left foot.
“Losing the three points in that game made me upset and furious.
“I wasn’t going to start with Danny Mills. He wasn’t the man I usually had in that position.
“But Gary Neville got injured and perhaps that was the reason we lost the points. At the World Cup in Germany, I got another chance to beat Sweden with England.
“But, before the kick-off, I had no idea that I would feel a bigger disappointment than in Japan four years earlier.
“We twice had the lead but the Swedes were mentally stronger.
“As always, Henrik Larsson was there to hurt you and he scored to make it 2-2 with his toe in injury-time.
“We should have won. Definitely. The players were down after that game.
“But I said ‘Boys, it’s early in the tournament so don’t be so hard on yourself’.
“I could have talked to an empty room because the players just continued to look at their shoes and were quiet.
“David Beckham, who was amazing at fighting bad moods, went round the room and tried to lift the players.
“But not even David could make 2-2 feel like anything else than a loss. Everybody felt that it was their fault.”
Eriksson says he expects Three Lions chief Roy Hodgson to follow his plan against the Swedes if he wants a chance of victory.
He said: “The tactic I chose both in 2002 and 2006 was very simple.
“It was to go high-tempo with the ball. That’s the only way to hurt Sweden. I’m pretty sure that my good friend Roy is preparing a similar plan. Sweden like to play compact and press their opponents high up the pitch.
“Because of that, it is important that you move the ball quickly and with as few touches as possible.
“You also have to be careful when Swedes have corners and free-kicks because they are often big and strong.
“One of Roy Hodgson’s most important jobs is to make sure the 4-4-1-1 system is well organised — that it is as tight as it can be.
“Sweden will be forced to find the spaces out wide and that’s where they can hurt England.”
If we did not know about all the potential pitfalls, we do now.