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I'll beat Poles for the Mirror; SWEDISH STAR FREDDIE LJUNGBERG'S PROMISE TO FANS.

THIS is England's secret weapon in our last-gasp battle for soccer glory: Swedish superstar Freddie Ljungberg.

Sweden must beat Poland in Stockholm this afternoon for Kevin Keegan's men to have any chance of playing in next year's European Championships.

And Arsenal star Freddie promised: "We can win it for England - we will give everything."

In an exclusive interview, the 22-year-old with the film-star looks told The Mirror: "Everyone is talking about England and this match and I can understand that.

"It's always an honour to play for your country and we have been very successful in the qualifying matches.

"Even though we are already through to the finals, the crowd will really want us to finish with a victory.

"They will expect nothing less. It's a sell-out even when we play Luxembourg, and I know this time will be no different.

"They have been a great help getting us to the finals, and now we want to give them something back. And that can help win it for England as well."

He added: "It's about professionalism for us. If as a player you don't go out there and give everything, then you're out for the next match."

As soon as it became clear England needed a Swedish victory after our drab 0-0 draw with Poland last month, all eyes in the Arsenal camp turned to Freddie.

Film crews followed him at the training ground.

Martin Keown spotted one cameraman with Ljungberg-style spiky hair and told Freddie: "He must be Swedish with a hair-cut like that!" He was.

Midfielder Freddie's locks have led to jokey comparisons with the late Sex Pistols star Sid Vicious, though he looked pretty vacant when he first heard.

"I'm not really into punk rock. I'd never heard of him," he said with a wide grin. "It was before my time."

FREDDIE'S hair is not only spiked but also dyed red - just to show his love of Arsenal.

But it has caused problems, as his first and last visit to an English barber proved.

"It was OK, but I think I'll stick to the one in Sweden," he said. "That means I have to let it grow, and it looks awful at the moment."

The trademark locks have been flying down the wing in recent Sweden games.

He starred in his country's Euro 2000 qualifiers, a goal against England last year persuading Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to fork out pounds 3 million for the then little-known 21-year-old.

The Gunners' England contingent of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Ray Parlour have kept reminding him of his duty to go all-out for a win today.

Arsenal assistant manager Pat Rice said: "He's the man who could win it for England.

"It's so important for English football that we get a victory. Freddie knows that."

Freddie added: "As soon as England drew, it was clear what we had to do. It would be the same if Sweden were in the same position.

"I know it would be fun for my Arsenal team-mates to get there. England are a very good side and they are good enough to be in the finals. It's hard, but we will try for them.

"But we know Poland will be tough.

"They were very good in the first 20 minutes against us last time. But then they didn't really like the way we pressured them all over the pitch and in the end we won 1-0.

THERE is no doubt they will come to Sweden to defend. But we've been looking at how to beat them."

English football has a massive following in Sweden. Most fans there will want to see Beckham, Shearer and Co reach the finals in Holland and Belgium next year, according to Freddie. "Of course there are a lot of stars over here and more big names than in Poland," he said.

"I think Swedish people will be looking for them to go through."

Fame has arrived fast for Freddie. Born and brought up in the seaside town of Halmstad, 300 miles north of Stockholm, he was a star performer in football, handball and ice-hockey at school.

Civil engineer dad Roy, 47, and mum Bodil, 43, an education supervisor, encouraged him to study as well as play. His brother Filip, 17, is following in his footsteps with the junior side at Halmstad.

For a while, it seemed Freddie might be a Top Gun rather than a Top Gunner. "I have always dreamt of being a fighter pilot," he said.

But his IT and economics course at college - and the rough-and-tumble of ice-hockey - soon gave way to soccer. After representing Sweden at junior level, he made his professional debut for his home-town club aged only 17.

SOON he was winning rave reviews as Halmstad clinched the league championship - and an army of female fans followed his every move.

He gets hundreds of e-mails and letters from English girls. A female member of the Arsenal staff told The Mirror: "He's very modest about it, and answers his own mail."

Freddie admits: "It sort of comes with the territory. There are a lot of girls who recognise me when I go out and you just have to deal with that.

"The fans over here do tend to be a bit more forward than in Sweden. There is a lot more attention here because the game is so much bigger."

Freddie has already tasted glory this season in soccer's most famous arena with a goal in Arsenal's Champions League campaign at Wembley.

He is looking for the same again today to sink Poland.

At the end of our interview a passer-by called out: "Score a goal for England, Freddie!"

He looked over his shoulder and smiled: "Don't worry, I'll try my best!"

Sweden v Poland live: Sky Sports 2, 1.30pm; BBC Radio 5 Live, from 1pm.

MY LOVE LIFE NEEDS SPICE

HE may be Sweden's answer to David Beckham, with an army of female fans following his every move, but Freddie is not winning the love game.

And, despite a posh bachelor pad in Hampstead, a top-of-the-range BMW and a five-year contract worth a cool pounds 2 million, the George Best lifestyle has certainly eluded him too.

Freddie, who split with his 21-year-old dance student girlfriend Helen Sandberg earlier this year, says ruefully: "All I do is work right now.

"I have played non-stop for 18 months, with only six days off, and I can't really go out much.

"I get calls from my friends, but I just have to say no. I miss the beach too but that is the sacrifice you make."

Unlike Mr Beckham and another Swedish star, Coventry goalkeeper Magnus Hedman, who married pop star Magdalena Graaf last Sunday, Freddie is not looking for his own Posh Spice.

"I understand what they see in models, but I couldn't care less if a woman works on a farm."

Freddie, meanwhile, is still coming to terms with London after life in a small Swedish coastal resort and admits the move finished his relationship with Helen.

"She just got sick of travelling," he said. "That's life, I suppose."

FREDDIE:

THE FACTS

Born: Halmstad, Sweden, April 16, 1977.

Marital status: Single. Height: 5'10".

Weight: 11st 10lbs.

Hobbies: Ice hockey, handball, reading, music. Favourite shows: Abba!, Saturday Night Fever.

Career highlights: League winner with Halmstad BK. Scored on Arsenal debut against Manchester Utd.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Armstrong, Jeremy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 9, 1999
Words:1230
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