Danish gameplan against Sweden on Saturday will focus on stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic
13 November ~ There was an unexpected challenge for Danish fans travelling to Stockholm this weekend for their Euro 2016 qualification play-off. On Thursday the Swedish Government reintroduced border controls for the first time since 1995 as a way of coping with the growing refugee crisis, and both Danish and Swedish fans wish their respective teams could roll back the years too.
The early 1990s were good for Scandinavian football. Denmark’s march to the Euro 92 title on Swedish soil was followed by Sweden’s impressive 1994 World Cup performance. Players from Europe’s top leagues such as Patrik Andersson and Martin Dahlin were soon followed by newer blood in the form of Henrik Larsson, Fredrik Ljungberg and Olof Mellberg, who formed the spine of Swedish squads in the early 2000s. Denmark could consistently field substantial players with European pedigree such as the Laudrup brothers, Jon Dahl Tomasson and the imperious Peter Schmeichel.
Looking at the current Swedish team in particular, a severe lack of talent is evident compared to the recent past. An injury to Pontus Wernbloom, the unshowy CSKA Moscow midfielder, is a worry ahead of Saturday’s game, revealing much about Sweden’s lack of depth and quality. Reliable bodies like Anders Svensson and Tobias Linderoth are long gone, so while the Swedes have one of Europe’s best strikers in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they have little to back him up. Few world-class defences shiver at the thought of Ola Toivonen or Gustav Svensson surging into the box.
What the Swedes lacked in talent they previously made up for in organisation – under Lars Lagerback the Blagult were odds on to reach major tournaments. They occasionally play more exciting football under former Rosenborg coach Erik Hamren, but fans look enviously at the efficiency with which Lagerback’s well-drilled Iceland team tore through their qualification group. The price of changing a reliable formula has been inconsistency, including a 4-1 home loss to Austria in qualification and nervous draws against Russia and Montenegro.
Denmark are traditionally the most creative of the Scandinavian teams but long-serving coach Morten Olsen has had a less than impressive campaign. Finishing third behind Albania, the Danes have lacked the tenacity that made their group games in Ukraine electric to watch.
The Danish gameplan will be to pin down Ibrahimovic with a fading Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer, knowing they can outclass the Swedes elsewhere on the pitch. Kasper Schmeichel is increasingly impressive and having a good season with Leicester, while Christian Eriksen can also provide creativity from midfield that the Swedes cannot match. By shutting down service to Ibrahimovic and drawing him out of play the Danes should be able to pull the strings, but whoever makes it to the finals, don’t expect them to set Europe alight. Dominic Hinde