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Ljungberg and Sweden out to surprise

Group C Preview

Sweden's Fredrik Ljungberg believes his side have the ability and motivation to spring a surprise in Euro 2004 Group C.

The 27-year-old midfielder, whose 2002 World Cup campaign was wrecked by injuries, wants to make up for lost time, starting with matches against Bulgaria, Italy and Denmark.

'Now it is time that we as a squad really did something good,' he said. 'We have a consistent team but despite some good results our achievements have been mixed when it mattered in recent years.'

Italy are clear favourites to win the group, particularly after enjoying unusually serene preparations that have raised genuine hopes they can go one better than Euro 2000 when they finished runners-up to France.

Coach Giovanni Trapattoni was in confident mood going into Monday's opening match against Denmark.

'From a physical and mental point of view we are ready,' he said. 'Denmark are strong because they have a Nordic mentality mixed with Latin creativeness. It will be difficult to beat them.'

The Swedes qualified unbeaten for Euro 2000 but went home after the first round, and in the last World Cup they topped a tough group ahead of England and Argentina before losing to Senegal.

'Everyone thought we should beat Senegal,' Ljungberg said. 'The trouble was that everyone thought that was an easy game -- but it was only easy in theory. And that has been our main problem, making progress in the final stages when people expect it.

Ljungberg believes Sweden, who meet Bulgaria on Monday in their opening match, have the ability to cause problems for Italy.

'We have met them before and we know they are a good team,' he said. 'But we think we can unsettle them.

'We don't know so much about Bulgaria, except that they are now well organised and have talented players, but when it comes to Denmark, of course, it is a different story.

'It will be a huge game for us against them -- a kind of Scandinavian derby with a lot at stake. It will be all-action and very physical. But these are the kind of games that made me want to become a footballer in the first place.'

Sweden, who finished third at the 1994 World Cup, have now gone full circle with a team combining promising youngsters with seasoned professionals, including returning striker Henrik Larsson, in a rigid 4-4-2 formation.

Danish hopes of an upset have not been helped by winger Jesper Gronkjaer's decision to stay behind in Denmark due to a family illness but coach Morten Olsen has remained confident.

'One thing is for sure,' said Olsen. 'In order to be successful at a tournament like this you have to be in good shape, you need some luck, and you need to be free of injury.

'This applies particularly to the smaller nations, who do not have so many players to pick from.'

Bulgaria are also firmly in that category and Denmark have little chancee of repeating their shock victory in the 1992 European Championship. They know they need a confidence-boosting result in their first game against the Italians to keep alive realistic hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.