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Sweden full of free kick specialists at Euro 2012

Associated Press Published: June 8, 2012
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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the clear leader for Sweden in most aspects of the game, but when it comes to free kicks he may have to take a back seat at the European Championship.

Sweden boasts four free kick specialists in its lineup, and converting set pieces into goals may be key to securing advancement from Group D.

The only question is, who gets to take them?

While Ibrahimovic has scored some spectacular goals from set pieces in the past, he may have to defer some opportunities at Euro 2012 to Sebastian Larsson, Kim Kallstrom and Rasmus Elm.

Larsson was described by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as the best free kick taker in the Premier League after he curled in a spectacular effort for Sunderland against the Gunners this past season.

The left-footed Kallstrom has plenty of free kick goals on his resume for both Lyon and Sweden, while Elm has emerged as one of the top dead-ball specialists in the Dutch league for AZ Alkmaar.

Then there's Ibrahimovic, of course, who has one of the hardest shots in football and has also shown his ability for bending a ball over the wall.

While none of them may quite match Cristiano Ronaldo's ability, there's no doubt that set pieces may become one of Sweden's most dangerous weapons at this tournament. And the four players complement each other nicely.

"Kim is left-footed. Zlatan has a lot of power, and has scored some sick goals that way," Elm said. "Me and Seb are fairly similar and like the same spots. I try to make it dip a bit. The priority is to get it over the wall, and then it might go in."

Sweden opens Euro 2012 against host Ukraine on Monday and then faces England and France in group play. While the Swedes may be able to control possession more against the Ukrainians, creating chances from open play may prove a lot tougher in the next two games.

That's where set pieces may prove decisive.

"In modern football, that's a very important source for goals," Kallstrom said. "I think it'll be incredibly important regardless of who we're playing here at the Euros."

Elm, Kallstrom and Larsson are likely to share the load when it comes to corners — another area where Sweden could excel because of its tall forwards — but neither is predicting any infighting over who gets the chance to score when the perfect free kick opportunity arises.

"We usually decide those things before the game, and then it sorts itself out on the field," Kallstrom said. "The person you feel is right at the moment usually gets to take it."

Elm predicted that dead ball situations will be a large part of the training sessions ahead of the Ukraine game.

"We'll work on it a bit here, these are the types of details that decide games," Elm said.

The issue of deciding the shooter may be helped a bit by where the free kick arises, too. Kallstrom's left foot is the natural choice from areas on the right, while Ibrahimovic is the best option from distance.

"These things work themselves out fairly naturally," Elm said. "The ideal position for me is a bit to the left of the area, where you can make the dip a bit. But there may be more people than me who'll want to take those."