The stand-out draw of the play-offs for the 2016 European Championships in France is without doubt the Scandinavian showdown between Sweden and Denmark. The battle commences on Saturday night in Solna.
Swedes looking for revenge after 2010 heartbreak
Without doubt, the darkest day in Swedish football happened on the October 10 2009 when a 1-0 defeat to Denmark in the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, ended a run of participation in five consecutive major tournaments. Six years has passed since that infamous night but now coach Erik Hamrén has the chance to put the record straight, starting in Saturday’s play-off first leg in Solna. The Swedes come into the two-legged shoot-out in good form, having only lost one of their last five qualifiers on their own patch and in striker Zlatan Ibrahimović; they have the player for the big occasion. The 33-year-old frontman (priced on the best sports betting sites at *4.33 to be first goalscorer on Saturday) has been in outstanding form for club and country this season and has helped himself to eight goals in eight games, in Sweden’s quest to reach France next summer. A word of warning for Hamrén however, his stand-out performer is only one booking away from suspension and Sweden will need their inspiration for Tuesday’s return in Copenhagen.
Olsen prepares to take his last stand for Denmark
Legendary Danish coach Morten Olsen will step down as coach of the national team at the end of their participation in Euro 2016. After 16 years at the helm, he will be desperate to continue his managerial adventure over in France next summer, having eliminated his country’s bitter rivals from a major tournament for a second time (they are quoted at *1.95 on the betting exchanges to do this). His team are not in the best run of form right now, failing to score in their last three matches and their away record in qualification has been poor, having only won once on the road. It will be an emotional few days for Olsen, his players will want to give him the best send-off possible; hopefully for them, it will be in the heat of a European summer in 2016.
It’s in the midfield where Sweden have their problems; Pontus Wernbloom (thigh) and Albin Ekhdal (foot) are both unavailable for Saturday and Hamrén will be anxious that Kim Källström (stomach bug) and Oscar Lewicki (concussion) can recover in time to take their place in the starting line-up.
Saturday’s visitors also have problems in the central areas, with 20-year-old Pione Sisto unavailable thanks to a groin strain and most bizarre of all, Leon Andreasen, who will miss Saturday’s first-leg after cutting himself opening a parcel.
PROBABLE STARTING XI’S
Sweden (4-4-2) Isaksson; Martin Olsson, Antonsson, Granqvist, Lustig; Zengin, Källström, Lewicki, S. Larsson; Guidetti, Ibrahimovic
Denmark (4-5-1) Schmeichel; Durmisi, Agger, Kjær, Jacobsen; C. Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli, Højbjerg, Wass, Braithwaite; Bendtner
HEAD TO HEAD
In 104 previous meetings, the current score stands at Sweden (46 wins) and Denmark (40 wins). 2009 remains the most memorable for Danish supporters and they can also take comfort from the fact that Sweden have never won (or even scored) in a home qualifying fixture against them.
Sweden 2.37 Draw 3.20 Denmark 3.40
*odds courtesy of Bet365
Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)