Sweden worried about Elmander's foot

Sweden worried about Elmander's foot

Published Jun. 7, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Sweden has two concerns going into its opening European Championship game against Ukraine on Monday - Johan Elmander's foot and the co-host's crowd support.

Elmander is Sweden's only major injury worry, with the Galatasaray forward struggling to recover from a fracture in his right foot. He worked out separately on Thursday while the rest of squad held their first training session in Ukraine on the outskirts of Kiev.

Elmander is coach Erik Hamren's top choice to start up front along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and is expected to begin participating in full training on Friday.

''So far it's looking good, and he's very positive,'' Hamren said at a news conference.


Hamren sounded more concerned about facing Ukraine in its opening game, saying the host nation is usually among the toughest teams to play in the first match. While Sweden may seem to have a stronger lineup on paper, Hamren also pointed out that the last three games between the teams have finished with a win for each side and a draw.

''We know it will be even tougher on Monday because of the home support, so in my eyes they're the favorites to win,'' he said. ''If you look at the statistics, it's not often that the host nation loses its opener.''

That's why Elmander's fitness may be key for the Swedes.

The former Bolton striker's speed and willingness to run tirelessly throughout a game can open up more space for Ibrahimovic, Sweden's best player who is likely to be deployed in a playmaker role behind whoever is at center forward.

''His qualities help make it easier for me,'' Ibrahimovic said after a 2-1 friendly win over Serbia on Tuesday, which Elmander missed.

If Elmander still isn't fit on Monday, Hamren does have other options.

PSV Eindhoven striker Ola Toivonen started up front against Serbia and scored the opening goal. In the previous warm-up game against Iceland, Werder Bremen forward Markus Rosenberg started in that role with Toivonen on the wing - although Rosenberg is also struggling with an injury.

Hamren said he isn't in a hurry to make up his mind about his lineup.

''I don't have a clear starting 11 in my mind,'' he said. ''There are some positions where very small margins will decide who's going to play. And I don't have everyone match fit right now, so we'll see in the coming days who's available on game day.''

Sweden enjoyed a fairly relaxed first full day in Ukraine, with those who played against Serbia only engaging in light training during Thursday's session. The team then showed Swedish media around the hotel it is staying at south of Kiev, with Hamren saying he's trying to make sure the players don't start thinking too much about the Ukraine game too far in advance.

Even though Sweden may be the co-host's opponent, Hamren said he was impressed with the reception the team received when it arrived on Wednesday night - especially a group of young dancers that greeted the team at the hotel.

''I hope my players watched and learned, because their footwork was really world class,'' he said.