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Sweden's Ljungberg Laughs Way to Final

October 10, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

There was diminutive Hanna Ljungberg pictured in the sports pages of the Swedish daily tabloid newspaper, Aftonbladet, earlier this week, wearing a bandana and looking like she was toting a gun. Her strike partner? None other than Rambo, not Victoria Svensson.

Before Swedes, or anyone else, knocked over their morning coffee at this sight, a closer look at the picture revealed portions of the words "Hollywood Wax Museum." Ljungberg, as always, manages to keep everyone guessing at what she'll do next.

Whether it's on the pitch or carrying out an elaborate prank.

"She's funny, making jokes and [thinks] everyone doesn't know she is the one who is behind it," said Sweden's national soccer Coach Marika Domanski Lyfors on Thursday.

"But we know it."

Still, Ljungberg has limits. Her good nature was tested recently when the mercurial president of the Italian men's team, Perugia, said he was interested in signing a female player and mentioned her name.

Not wanting to be a punch line, Ljungberg, 24, was hardly amused. Though she played against boys when she was 7 until 15 years old, that might as well be soccer on another planet compared to taking on defenders from Juventus and AC Milan. She told a reporter from the Calgary Herald before the World Cup semifinals against Canada that, although she was beyond the annoyance now, her initial reaction was, "I was angry."

Thursday, though, Rambo was the issue, not Serie A. Ljungberg talked about the trip to Hollywood with reporters during Thursday's morning media session at the team's headquarters in Carson, and Swedish TV filmed the players doing interviews.

The Swedes are managing to take advantage of their first appearance in the final of the Women's World Cup. Though they play Germany on Sunday morning at Home Depot Center, the camp is hardly locked down at all hours in dark rooms watching film in between practices.

Hanna and her sisters -- well, her teammates -- have indeed gone Hollywood the last few days. Later Thursday, the team was scheduled to explore Universal Studios. That isn't to say tourism has replaced plans to stop the heart of Germany's offense, Birgit Prinz and Maren Meinert.

For Sweden, the rough equivalent to that duo is Ljung- berg and Svensson.

Ljungberg, who suffered a tournament-ending knee injury in the first round in 1999, has two goals and one assist, scoring twice against Nigeria in group play. Svensson has three goals and three assists.

"They're two different type of players, that's why I think they are working very good together," Domanski Lyfors said. "Victoria is more of a target more than Hanna is. Victoria is strong. Hanna is doing more one-touches. And they are both scoring."

Said Ljungberg: "Of course, I want to be one of them who steps up. I've played for so many years, and I'm one of them who needs to step up for the team.

"As I said earlier, we have a lot of players on the team who have done very well. It takes more than one player to step up in the finals. I hope we can do it together. I think that's the key, that's the Swedish key, always."

The Swedish way also features a quirk in the schedule. Four days after playing in the World Cup, Ljungberg and five teammates will have a key league game for their Swedish club, Umea.

Surely, they couldn't expect Ljungberg to go 90 minutes?

"If I have to," said Ljungberg, who had 39 goals in 22 games with Umea in 2002. "We have six players here so we can't rest. Some of us need to play."

Ljungberg won't back down from many challenges -- on the field or off it.

"I'm pretty fearless." Ljungberg said. "I've been more and more, not fear, but a bit more [selective], not going into any situation. When I was younger, I could go into any situation, and feel like, I may reach the ball, but I may break my leg, but I go in there anyway.

"I've been a bit more smarter. The problem with World Cup is you can't hold back."

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