If Sweden and Denmark are brothers, then they are the type of brothers who grew up constantly bickering.
A conflict which can be dated back to centuries of wars between the kingdoms which began in the 1500s, these days this Scandinavian sibling rivalry is a much better-behaved one, but that won’t stop each country plotting the other’s misery as their football teams prepare for a playoff to reach Euro 2016.
With names such as Queen Margrethe, Gustavus I and King Christian III long since consigned to the history books, it is the recognisable figures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nicklas Bendtner – modern-day monarchs in their own minds – who will help decide this particular battle between two proud nations, only one of whom can be in France next year.
But which one?
Sweden were probably more impressive in qualifying, but still came behind Austria and Russia in Group G, whilst Denmark perhaps have the better all-round team but they weren’t good enough to get out of a weak five-team Group I, finishing behind Albania.
In truth neither look like making much of impact in France, but the fact that getting there will now mean that other one won’t has added even more spice to the occasion. And when the two great rivals meet on the football pitch, there is normally a story or two.
Sweden Win The Battle, Denmark Win The War
Take Euro 92, Denmark’s finest moment which was made all the better as it was achieved on Swedish soil.
Yet before the Danes—late entrants to the tournament—would march to an improbable success in the final, they lost to their rivals in the group thanks to a fine Thomas Brolin goal on the break in Solna, leaving them on one point from two games having drawn with Graham Taylor’s England (Carlton Palmer and all) in their opener. They never really looked back.
But whilst the Danes could point to that success, Sweden then had their hugely impressive run to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1994 to brag about, and so the sense of one-upmanship continued into the next century. Once there, though, things took an odd turn.
The Porto Pact?
Tell an Italian than Sweden and Denmark are fierce rivals and you’re likely to be directed to Boavista’s Estadio do Bessa in Porto, and specifically to the rain-soaked night of June 22nd 2004.
With Euro 2004’s Group C finely poised going into the final matches, Italy knew that they needed to beat Bulgaria in Guimaraes to stand any chance of going through, but they also needed something else.
Due to the results elsewhere in the group, a draw of 2-2 or higher between the Scandinavian rivals in Porto would ensure that both went through, regardless of what Italy did. You can probably guess what happened next.
Two Jon Dahl Tomasson strikes (the first a sublime one) either side of a Henrik Larsson penalty looked as though they were going to send the Danes through, until Sweden’s Matias Jonson popped up in the 89th minute to ensure that the 2-2 draw that the Italians had feared had become a reality.
Italy’s mood darkened further when Antonio Cassano scored an injury-time winner for them against the Bulgarians, and although plenty of the Italian public were convinced that Sweden and Denmark had ‘arranged’ the draw between them, Azzurri manager Giovanni Trapattoni never publicly alleged anything, and UEFA never looked into the case.
It was simply one of those occurrences which can be filed under football’s great quirks, with the Swedes going on to lose on penalties to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals and the Danes going down 3-0 to a rampant Czech Republic.
The Poulsen Parken Punch
For the next Euros—the 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland—the Sweden and Denmark clashes would come in the qualifying stages, and one would prove remarkable.
On June 2nd 2007, Sweden raced into a 3-0 lead after 26 minutes in Copenhagen, only for the Danes to strike back through Daniel Agger, Tomasson and Leon Andreasen to level the scores.
In stoppage time, a tussle between Christian Poulsen and Markus Rosenberg in the Danish penalty area resulted in Poulsen clearly striking Rosenberg in the stomach, which was spotted by German referee Herbert Fandel. With little choice, Fandel awarded a penalty and was in the act of producing a red card for Poulsen when all hell broke loose.
A Danish fan ran onto pitch and directly at Fandel, striking him on the neck with an outstretched arm. Defender Michael Gravgaard and others dragged him away, but the damage had been done.
Sweden would never get to take their penalty, with Fandel taking the players off the pitch and abandoning the game.
The following days featured the Crown Prince of Denmark criticising Poulsen and a Copenhagen police inspector claiming that he could be sent to prison, but in the event it was only the fan who faced some hard time. He was given a 20-day sentence, as well as the status of the most hated man in Scandinavia.
Sweden were ultimately awarded a 3-0 win, which helped towards their qualification for Euro 2008, a tournament that Denmark and Poulsen missed out on.
The 2010 World Cup & Beyond
Almost inevitably after all of that, the Swedes and the Danes were again drawn to face each other in qualification for the 2010 World Cup, with Denmark’s 1-0 win in the first meeting back at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium since the Poulsen incident seeing another Poulsen, Jakob, grab the winner which secured a place at the tournament at South Africa.
Sweden didn’t attend that one, and only one of the best of enemies will be in France next summer.
Whichever one it proves to be, history tells us that it promises to be fascinating to find out.