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  Euro Stars    Henrik Larsson


Return of the prodigal Larsson boosts Sweden's chances
Henrik Larsson
A decade after helping Sweden to finish third at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States, Henrik Larsson's decision to return to international football could inspire his country to another strong finish at Euro 2004.

Certainly, Sweden appear to believe their hopes rest with the prodigious Celtic striker, who quit after the 2002 World Cup finals but who changed his mind at the end of April.

The clamour for the man they call "Henke" to return for the finals was led by UEFA's Swedish president Lennart Johansson, who sent a letter late last year urging him to reconsider his retirement plans.

Considering the 32-year-old Larsson's imperious form over the past seven years with Scottish champions Celtic, it is not difficult to detect why Sweden were so keen to see him again pull on their yellow and blue shirt.

Since joining Celtic from Dutch side Feyenoord in 1997 for a paltry 750,000 pounds, Larsson has been showered with plaudits despite playing in one of European soccer's unfashionable leagues.

A year after returning from suffering a horrific leg break in a UEFA Cup match against Olympique Lyon in 1999, Larsson displayed fortitude to win the Golden Boot award as top scorer in European club football in 2000-01 with 53 goals. He was also named Scotland's Player of the Year.

Larsson has now played his last match for Celtic with his contract expiring and leaves as the Glasgow club's third all-time scorer with 242 goals from 315 games, behind only Jimmy McGrory (470) and Bobby Lennox (273).

He helped them to win four league titles, three Scottish League Cups and a UEFA Cup runners-up medal after scoring twice in Celtic's 3-2 defeat in last year's final against Porto.

Larsson had a glorious end to his Celtic career, scoring two goals to secure a second Scottish Cup as the team beat Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 on Saturday at Hampden Park.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill admits he will find it almost impossible to replace Larsson, who is known the "King of Kings" by the club's supporters and was voted among the greatest 11 players in their history.

But Sweden's first-round opponents at Euro 2004, Italy, Bulgaria and Denmark, will be aware of his hunger to add to the 24 goals he has scored in 73 international outings.

He scored against Italy at Euro 2000 and also chipped in with one during a 4-1 win over Bulgaria in their third-place play-off at the 1994 World Cup finals.

An impressive display in Portugal should also secure a lucrative final move to a major European league as one of the most sought-after transfers of the close season.
- Oliver Grassman




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