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Friday, 21 October 2011

Scandinavian Spotlight: Euro finals berth for Sweden and Denmark but a poor night in Europa League

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Now that the international break is behind us we know the identity of all but four of the finals line-up. From the Scandinavian viewpoint most satisfying was the fact that the Danes and Swedes both managed to avoid the dreaded play-offs. Both completed fantastic victories over higher rated and more fancied opponents in their final games to secure automatic qualification.

Brøndby's Michael Krohn-Dehli scored his third international goal to give the Danes an early lead over Portugal and Arsenal's on-loan Nicklas Bendtner put them two up just after the hour before Ronaldo replied with almost the last kick of the match. While the Danes were understandably delighted, Portugal must be ruing a not uncharacteristically sloppy away performance and must now face a difficult trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina for the first leg of their play-off. Could be one to watch.

The Swedes too had a fantastic result against a previously unbeaten Netherlands in Stockholm. As befitted two teams who had scored 63 goals between them prior to this match we were treated to a feast of attacking football and five goals.  Sweden took an early lead through Kallstrøm, but Huntelaar pulled one back in 23 minutes and they went in at the break all square. A 50th minute strike by Dirk Kuyt gave the Dutch a lead which lasted all of a minute. Sebastien Larsson converted a penalty to draw Sweden level and just 60 seconds later they took the lead when Ola Toivonen netted. Despite some intense Dutch pressure they held on and secured the automatic place allocated to the best runners-up.

Thanks to their poor peformance against the Danes in Copenhagen (the Norwegian media would say capitulation) Norway's expected win against Cyprus - 3-1 in Oslo - was a hollow victory as they were already eliminated. Goals from Morten Pedersen, John Carew and Tom Høgli were enough to see off the Cypriots and at least ensured they finished on the same points as their local rivals.

Domestically, last weekend's games in Norway were pretty much a case of 'after you Claude' as Molde and Rosenborg both threw two points away with a 0-0 and a 2-2 respectively. Tromsø's 2-0 away win over already relegated Sarpsborg means they keep up the pressure in second place eight points behind Molde, but they are running out of time as are Vålerenga who remain a point further back after their 3-0 romp against Viking.

At the other end an unexpectedly easy 3-1 win for second bottom Start over Brann last Monday keeps their hopes of escaping the drop alive for another round of games. With four games left to play they currently sit four behind Fredrikstad.

With the Swedish championship already decided in Helsingborgs favour, interest in this Sunday's final round of matches surrounds the Europa League places and relegation. With AIK guaranteed a Euro place, third placed Elfsborg take on second bottom Trelleborgs in a match of huge significance to both clubs. Victory for Elfsborg would secure third spot and European qualification while at the same time relegating Trelleborg. Anything but victory for the away team, coupled with a resounding loss for Syrianska, will condemn them to the drop.

In Denmark meantime the league race has become almost exciting all of a sudden. A 2-0 defeat away to Horsens last Monday on top of a draw in their previous outing has cut FC Copenhagen's lead to a measly five points. Chasers Midtjylland and Nordsjælland both had 1-0 wins to keep FCK in sight with the former overcoming Brøndby to continue the capital side's miserable run of form.

With no Champions League representatives in midweek most eyes were on the Europa League although Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring for AC Milan in their 2-0 CL win over BATE Borisov and fellow Swede Olof Mellberg put in a great performance for Olympiacos as they overcame German champions Borussia Dortmund 3-1. Denmark's Anders Lindegaard also played his part with a clean sheet for Manchester United in their much needed away win over Otelul Galati.

Sitting bottom of their group Malmø desperately needed a win on Thursday at home to Metalist of Ukraine in Matchday Three of the Europa League. A goal in 22 minutes from Hamad gave them grounds for optimism but Metalist hit back 10 minutes later through Cristaldo, who was sent off 10 minutes later. Things got worse for Malmø right on half-time when Fininho sent them in for the break 2-1 down. The game was effectively over when Edmar headed in from a corner and Devic, with a delightful run and chip, scored in the second half.

Things were no better for Odense as goals from Brama (13) and Swede Emir Bajrami (31) saw them reach the break two down at home to Twente. A third goal in 65 minutes from Chadli was answered when Fall pulled one back with a bulleted header. Twente then put the icing on the cake however with a late fourth from Luuk de Jong (82).

FC Copenhagen were hoping to put up a better fight in the later game against Hannover 96, but a defensive error on the half hour mark handed the initiative to the Germans. A sloppy ball infield 25 yards out went straight to Pander and he made no mistake. Hannover dominated but FCK had chances especially when N'Doye just failed to connect with an excellent cross in 52 minutes.

Around the hour mark the Danes came back into the game more but just couldn't create the clear cut chances they needed until a corner from the left saw N'Doye (67) rise above the crowd six yards out and nod in the equaliser. A 78th minute tussle for the ball saw Hannover send the ball against their own crossbar, but FCK couldn't capitalise on the resultant corner. Despite Danish pressure Hannover thought they had stolen it near the end when a partially cleared free kick was blasted in low by Portuguese winger Sergio Pinto. Not to be denied however Copenhagen broke down the left and Santin played a one two just inside the box and squeezed the ball in under keeper Zieler to gain the club a deserved share of the points.

Overall a poor night for the Scandinavian representatives, but one which leaves Copenhagen (3rd) just a point behind Standard Liege and Hannover and Odense (3rd) hanging in there one point behind Fulham. Sorry Malmø are, to all intents and purposes, out with not a single point to their name.

On a brighter note though fans of the national sides can look out the passports for next summer's visit to Poland and Ukraine.

Article by Iain Macfadzean

Don't forget Iain will be here every Friday at Squarefootball with the latest update on the game in Scandinavia.

Related Articles:

Iain turns his attention on champions elect Molde

Helingborgs secure Swedish title and world records in Norway

Can Molde hold on to the dream?

Title beckons in Norway and Sweden

Happy days for the Danes

Can Norway see off their main rivals?

How do the small clubs survive

It's all hotting up in the north

Will Europe throw up any major shocks this season?

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Colin Illingworth



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