Sebastian Larsson scored his first international goal as Sweden beat Moldova 2-1 in a European Championship qualifier to move into second place in Group E.
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Sweden took the lead in the 30th minute through right-back Mikael Lustig, but the home team lacked attacking impetus – and also missed a penalty – before Larsson injected fresh life into a drab second half in the 82nd.
The Birmingham City midfielder drifted into the box for a corner, picked up a deft flick from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and toe-poked a right-footed shot past Moldova goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco.
His strike appeared to put Sweden in a comfortable position. Moldova, however, had proved resilient throughout, and Alexandru Suvorov frayed Swedish nerves with an expertly executed volley past Andreas Isaksson in stoppage time.
”It was really nice to get my first goal for the national team, and it was about time,” said Larsson, who has 29 caps for his country. ”It was a relief, too. We didn’t play very well today and it was great to get that second goal.”
Sweden has sought to broaden its attacking repertoire under coach Erik Hamren, and the home side started in a positive vein, fizzing the ball around at pace and creating early openings for Kim Kallstrom and Ibrahimovic.
Moldova, though, has proved difficult to break down in this qualifying campaign, and the visitors grew in stature as the half wore on. Suvorov, who scored from a free kick in his team’s win against Finland, twice had chances to repeat that feat but had one shot saved by Isaksson before his second attempt sailed high over the bar.
Just when Moldova seemed to have gained a foothold, Sweden struck the opening blow after Lustig latched onto a perfectly weighted pass from Kallstrom. Cutting in from the right wing to shoot from a seemingly impossible angle, the 24-year-old defender guided the ball into the bottom right corner with the aid of a deflection from defender Igor Armas.
That settled the home team, and Sweden looked set to double its lead before half time when Ibrahimovic was hacked down in the penalty box by Petru Racu, but the captain’s weak penalty kick was easily saved in the 43rd by Namasco.
Ibrahimovic almost atoned for that miss in the 61st when he cut inside from the left and fired off a low shot, but again Namasco got down well to save.
”They were a good, compact team,” said Ibrahimovic. ”But considering how we started, we should have scored more goals earlier.”
The second half was largely bereft of meaningful action until Larsson popped up to open his international account, and Suvorov showed that Moldova is not a team to be taken lightly.
Sweden now has nine points from its four matches in a group dominated by the Netherlands, which leads with 15 points from five straight wins.
Hungary is level on points with Sweden but has played one game more. Moldova is fourth on six points, ahead of Finland and San Marino.
Sweden: Andreas Isaksson, Mikael Lustig, Andreas Granqvist, Mikael Antonsson, Oscar Wendt, Pontus Wernbloom (Rasmus Elm, 65), Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson, Johan Elmander (Alexander Gerndt, 89), Emir Bajrami (Martin Olsson, 73), Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Moldova: Stanislav Namasco, Petru Racu, Victor Golovatenco, Igor Armas, Vadim Bolohan, Alexandru Suvorov, Alexandru Gatcan (Valeriu Andronic, 83), Eugeniu Cebotaru, Vadim Boret, Viorel Frunza (Igor Bugaev, 46), Anatolie Doros (Anatoli Cheptine, 72).