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Friday, 09 September 2011

Scandinavian spotlight: Happy days for the Danes, not so for Norway


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As the dust settles on another international break some in the Scandinavian football fraternity have more reason to be satisfied than others. The Danes will be very happy, Sweden reasonably so and Norway very disappointed.

As mentioned last week the Danes had the first matchday off and could afford to sit back as Norway had to defeat the Icelanders in Oslo. A game Norway should have won comfortably, on their second half display at least was finally settled in their favour courtesy of a late penalty. 80th minute substitute John Carew (yes it really is pronounced Yawn CAR-ev) was clearly brought down in the Iceland box and the pen was despatched by Hannover's Mohammed Abdellaoue in the 88th minute. It was a much closer result than was reflected in the play. Norway had huge amounts of possession and 15 attempts on goal to Iceland's one, but a combination of poor finishing and the woodwork kept them out until that dramatic finish.

Sweden were in action too on the Friday and were unhappy at losing a game against Hungary in Budapest which would all but have eliminated the hosts. Hungary were awarded a penalty in 19 minutes but Tamas Hjanal's shot came off the bar. Soon after that Ibrahimovic hit the post before Imre Szabics scored the opener right on half-time. Sweden dominated proceedings after the break and were rewarded on the hour when Elmander's one-two with Ibrahimovic saw him square the ball for Wilhelmsson to score with ease. They came close on another couple of occasions before being caught out right at the death when Rudolf smashed in a winner Hungary barely deserved. 

This coupled with Tuesday's 2-0 victory away to Moldova and Sweden's predictable 5-0 win over the Apennine hilltop known as San Marino, drew the hosts level on 15 points with their opponents but they've played a game more so the Swedes still have the upper hand. Hungary's last game is at home against Finland who host Sweden the previous Friday. A win for Erik Hamren's men in Helsinki will eliminate the Hungarians given their vastly inferior goal difference.

Tuesday night's match in Copenhagen was really when reality would bite for the Danes and Norwegians. Friday's wins for Norway and Portugal put them both on 13 points with Denmark back on ten with a game in hand so three points were vital for either side.

All the talk beforehand was of a fiercely fought, do-or-die derby clash. Someone forget to tell the Norwegians! A feckless display saw Denmark win more easily than they could ever have anticipated in such a vital match. Norway's inability to retain possession for more than a handful of crossfield or backward passes handed the initiative to the seemingly hungrier and more aggressive Danes. A Bendtner brace was enough for them to see off a poor Norway team. The first saw him step back from his marker, who was ball-watching, to give himself plenty of time to despatch Rommedahl's square ball with a flourish. His second was a 25-yard shot, again from a Rommedahl pass, right on half-time. Game over.

All three sides are now on 13 points with Norway having played an extra match.  The other two are in action on Friday October 7th for the first of their outstanding games - Denmark away to rock bottom Cyprus while Portugal entertain Iceland in the Estadio do Dragao in Porto. Both should pick up the three points leaving Norway hoping for a massive victory over Cyprus in Oslo the following Tuesday and an equally emphatic victory for either of the other two in Copenhagen the same night. Don't hold your breath Norway. 

One thing I'm sure none of us wants to see is a repeat of the infamous 1982 World Cup stitch-up between West Germany and Austria, but I'm sure with only the winners guaranteed a qualification spot both will be anxious to avoid the lottery of a play-off.

Article by Iain Macfadzean

Iain will be back next Friday with more news, views and opinions on the game in Scandinavia.

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