Hosts look for flying start

UEFA U21 Championship: Sweden v Belarus

u21 Euros 2009.

Malmo -

After England took the initiative with a 2-1 win over Finland last night and Spain and Germany tussled to a 0-0 finish, it is up to the host nation to stamp their authority on Group A.

Sweden kick off shortly against a Belarus side missing only their manager - coach Yuri Kurnenin is suspended after being given his marching orders in the second leg of their play-off victory over Turkey back in October.

Belarus are no novices at this level like the Finns - they qualified for the 2004 finals, which they began by dispatching Italy with an Aleksandr Hleb goal.

All the Swedish team play in Scandinavia with the exception of Dutch-based striking duo Ola Toivonen, of PSV Eindhoven and Marcus Berg of Groningen. The Swedes, coached by former national team supremo Tommy Soderberg with Jorgen Lennartsson, will be hoping the twelfth man of the crowd at the Malmo New Stadium will play its part.The unimaginatively-named arena, with a 20,000 capacity, is next door to the old stadium which hosted games at Euro '92. Malmo, now umbilically joined to the Danish capital Copenhagen by the Oresund bridge, Europe's longest, belies the stereotypes of Scandinavian sang-froid.

A youthful population, a third of whom were born overseas, have added colour, cuisine and a vibrant music scene to the nation's third city.

Tonight, Sweden is hoping the Malmo vibe will set the nation on the way to domestic triumph.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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