Stockholm: Injury-hit Sweden face a tricky Euro 2012 qualifier in Moldova on Friday without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they seek to steal a march on second place from Group E rivals Hungary who play on Tuesday.
"We`ve played some matches without Zlatan before, and now we`ll have to do it again," Sweden manager Erik Hamren said on Wednesday with Ibrahimovic ruled out by an ankle injury.
"I wanted him to travel with us in his role as captain and that was no problem, but then I decided after talking to the medical team that two long flights wouldn`t be the best thing for his foot, so he`s staying at home."
The Swedes could afford the luxury of a missed Ibrahimovic penalty when they beat Moldova 2-1 in Stockholm in March but the AC Milan striker will be sorely missed himself in Chisinau.
Also absent are Hamburg striker Markus Berg, who is having hip surgery following a period on loan at PSV Eindhoven, and AZ Alkmaar`s Rasmus Elm, who is having an operation on his foot.
World Cup finalists Netherlands are the runaway group leaders, having won all six matches. Sweden and Hungary have nine points, with the latter having played two games more.
Having been completely outplayed by the Dutch in a 4-1 defeat in Rotterdam, the best the Swedes can really hope for is second place but to achieve it they need a win in Moldova.
Sweden followed up the Netherlands defeat with a shaky 2-1 victory over Moldova on a chilly night, courtesy of goals from Mikael Lustig and Sebastian Larsson.
Despite defending deep, Moldova created plenty of chances in Stockholm, with Alexandru Suvorov scoring the goal of the game with a cracking volley from the edge of the area in added time.
The Moldovans have shown they are no pushovers at home either, with the Netherlands only just scraping a 1-0 victory in October despite having the lion`s share of possession.
Sweden are slight favourites but it is a make-or-break game for Moldova who need a shock win to leave both teams and Hungary on nine points, although the Swedes will have a game in hand.
With Hungary due to visit San Marino on Tuesday, when Sweden have another difficult match against regional rivals Finland in Stockholm, Hamren`s side have little margin for error.