SUNDERLAND midfielder Sebastian Larsson has given England a stark Euro 2012 warning by claiming Sweden are good enough to win the tournament, which starts tomorrow.
The unfancied Swedes face England in Group D’s second round of fixtures on June 15, four days after the two nations face Ukraine and France respectively in their opening matches on Monday.
Sweden, despite an impressive record of qualifying for the knockout stages, would be widely seen as the weakest team out of the four going for the top two spots and a place in the quarter-finals.
France have not lost for 22 games, England are still a strong side even with so many top players absent, while Ukraine will hope home advantage can make up for their lack of world-class talent. However, Stadium of Light favourite Larsson does not buy into the notion that his country is there to make up the numbers.
Because he firmly believes that if Sweden can find some consistency then they can make it all the way.
Larsson said: “We are going to the Euros to win. Of course we are.
“We know that if we can play our best football then we are a very, very good side.
“Our problem is that we have not been able to do it for several games now, including the warm-up matches. So we have to figure out how to play at our best in every match during the tournament.
“Once we do that, then we can beat all the best teams.” Larsson’s
club team-mate Keiren Westwood has been put on standby to deputise for the Republic of Ireland in place of Shay Given.
The veteran goalkeeper, who has won 122 caps, is reported to be suffering from calf and knee problems, ahead of Sunday’s game against Croatia.
Sources close to the Irish camp at their Polish HQ have told The Journal that the Republic coaching staff are not convinced the 36-year-old former Sunderland and Newcastle player will be able to prove he is 100% fit before Sunday.
Given, who has missed this week’s training sessions with the Irish squad, was substituted in Monday’s friendly against Hungary after missing the May 26 friendly against Bosnia when he travelled to London to have a scan on an injured knee.
The 27-year-old Westwood, who played seven league games last season for Sunderland, replaced Given at half-time in the Republic’s final warm-up match against Hungary on Monday and acquitted himself well in a 0-0 draw.
Ireland goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly insisted Given would play in Sunday’s group opener, but tellingly admitted he would not be risked for fear that an aggravation to an existing injury would end his tournament.
Kelly said: “If Shay is fit to play on Sunday, then he’s fit to play. Another thing about Shay, in terms of his integrity and honesty, he wouldn’t do that if it meant in any way that it would impair his performance.
“If you go out on to the pitch, you might say injuries can happen – anything can happen on the pitch.
“But once you go over the white line, you are fit and you have put yourself forward.”
Three players for Ireland could represent Sunderland on the pitch if Westwood is required.
John O’Shea is a certain starter at right-back, while James McClean is almost certain to feature, albeit off the substitutes’ bench.
And long-time Martin O’Neill target Aiden McGeady will also be in the XI to face Croatia.
Westwood did admit that being behind Simon Mignolet in the pecking order had been difficult to take last season; the Belgian having established himself as first-choice keeper.
And it was only the thought of travelling to Poland and Ukraine that kept him going when he was out the team.
Westwood said: “The Euros kept me going last season. I love playing for Ireland, it means the world to me, and so I was delighted and very proud to make the squad.
“I want to go there and keep Shay on his toes, and be ready if I get a chance.”