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'Ibrahimovic will be fit for Russia game'

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback dispells fears that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss their crunch final Group D clash against Russia by insisting the star striker will be fit to play.
By HT Correspondent | AFP, Innsbruck (austria)
UPDATED ON JUN 15, 2008 11:47 PM IST

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback dispelled fears that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss their crunch final Group D clash against Russia on Tuesday by insisting the star striker will be fit to play.

Ibrahimovic failed to appear for the second half of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Spain after a starring first half role in which he scored the Swede’s equaliser following Fernando Torres’s opener.

David Villa’s injury time winner ensured that Sweden face a do or die match against Russia in their final group game, needing at least a draw to sneak into the quarterfinals.

Ibrahimovic suffered a recurrence of the knee problem that kept him out of most of his club Inter Milan’s title run-in and made him a worry for the Spain match.

But Lagerback is confident his outrageously gifted forward will line up against the Russians.

“Zlatan had some pain in his knee and at half-time we talked about it with the medical team who said he would have been able to do a few more minutes but we decided it would be better to take him off rather than making his injury worse,” said the coach.

“We have other players and regardless, we had the situation in our hands. Zlatan was top class in the first half. He draws players to him so obviously his absence in second half was a big loss for us.

“But from what little I saw at half-time, I didn’t get the impression that he had more or less the same feeling as after the first match so we expect him to play.”

But Lagerback tried to downplay Ibra’s importance to the team when asked if Sweden relied too much on him.

“I don’t know whether or not we’re too dependant on him, he’s a world class player and if you look at Inter Milan they’re a world class team and he’s important for them too.

“If you have a player of that calibre then you depend on him but I don’t know if we’re too dependent on him, although our chances improve if he’s on the pitch.”

Lagerback also praised the contribution of evergreen forward Henrik Larsson, who like the Duracell Bunny just seems to keep on going even as he nears the ripe old age of 37.

He linked up well with Ibrahimovic in a first half where Sweden largely bossed the game.

“Henrik is doing an extraordinary job, he works so hard,” added Lagerback. “He was a little tired so that’s why we decided to substitute him but he has the ability to bounce back.”

Lagerback said Villa’s late winner was tough to swallow after a dogged defensive display in the second period that limited Spain to only a few chances.

“Obviously this is a bitter way to lose a match in the very final seconds,” he said. “We had an extremely good first half and had more chances than Spain even if they had a lot of the ball and created some very good chances.

“But regardless of the result we still have our destiny in our own hands. There’s still another game so we will look to recharge the batteries in the next few days and then play a fantastic match and we have a realistic chance of progressing.

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