The midfielder Abin Ekdal misses out for Sweden through injury, but Oscar Lewicki is available despite suffering concussion in Malmo’s defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. The uncapped 27-year-old striker Emir Kujovic, who has just won the league with Norrkoping is a wild-card selection. Morten Olsen, who will retire after the 2016 campaign is completed, created a minor surprise by calling up the Borussia Monchengladbach defender Andreas Christensen and the Ajax forward Viktor Fischer.
Neither side had the happiest time in qualifying. Sweden failed to finish above a Russia side self-destructing under Fabio Capello and were thrashed 4-1 at home by Austria in their third-last game. Back-to-back 2-0 wins over Liechtenstein and Moldova got them into the play-off but were hardly cause for great celebration. Denmark, as dour as ever under Olsen, scored eight and conceded five in eight games, finishing behind Albania and being fortunate that Serbia and Armenia were in such indifferent form. They didn’t even score in their final three qualifiers.
Denmark and Sweden have met 113 times in total, with Sweden shading it 45-40. Recent history is very much in Denmark’s favour. They’ve won the last four meetings, including both games in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. A Euro 2008 qualifier was awarded as a 3-0 win for Sweden after a Danish fan ran onto the pitch and attacked the referee Herbert Frandel for awarding Sweden a last minute penalty and sending off Christian Poulsen for punching Seden’s Marcus Rosenberg.
It may not be entirely fair, as one Danish newspaper put it, to say that Zlatan Ibrahimovic aside, Sweden are about as interesting as an early morning trip to Ikea, but it’s not far off the truth. If Denmark can stop Zlatan, at least half the battle’s won. That may not be as tough as it has been in the past. Zlatan is 34 now and beginning to show his age. Although he’s banged in nine goals in eight starts in Ligue 1, his Champions League record this season is more troubling: no goals and no assists yet this season.
It’s not immediately clear where he will play; in Sweden’s last two games he has been pulled deep, behind either John Guidetti or Markus Berg as Hamrin has added greater fluency to the front end of the team, but Denmark have an experienced and reliable central defensive pairing in Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer. The young Bayern midfielder Pierre Hojbjerg will probably take one of the two holding slots (assuming Olsen sticks with the 4-2-3-1 with which he finished qualifying rather than the 4-3-3 with which he began it), with William Kvist alongside him, although both Jakob Poulsen and Daniel Wass have played at times during qualifying.
Sweden’s biggest problem is the lack of pace through what is an ageing side, which is one of the reasons Zlatan has been pulled back into the line of creators. Denmark’s main source of penetration is wide, with Christian Eriksen operating as the playmaker, looking to feed two of Michael Krohn-Deli, Yussuf Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite. Martin Olsson has been a constant at left-back for Sweden but at right-back they’ve chopped and changed during qualification with Mikael Lustig, Sebastian Larsson and Pierre Bengtsson all having a go. None are quick and that Swedish right-Danish left could be a source of success for the Danes.
This will be tense and the parochial passions involved mean it’s sure to be feisty but it’s hard to imagine this being an open or fluid game. Denmark's natural game is to sit deep and look to pick up what they can on the break or from set-plays, while Sweden will be very aware of the dangers of leaving space in behind them. The first leg, in Stockholm, is especially likely to be extremely cagey.
Denmark, defensively tighter, unburdened by an ageing ego, seem likelier to go through over the two legs, but it’s understandable Sweden should be favourites at home, even if they are as long as 2.35.
The Zlatan factor, and memories of his epic head-to-head with Cristiano Ronaldo in the play-off for the World Cup, probably means that’s still slightly shorter than it ought to be, but there seems limited value in backing Denmark +0.5 at 1.85. Under 2.5 goals at 1.56 is probably likely, but so short that it’s almost tempting to back over 2.5 at 2.48: as cagey as it will be, a 2-1 win one way or the other isn’t that improbable.
Perhaps the way to go is to take those two inklings – of Denmark being overpriced and of a probable dearth of goals and Dutch both Draw & Under 2.5 goals and Denmark Win & Under 2.5 goals at 3.60 and 6.00 respectively.