WCQ Preview: Denmark versus Sweden
Denmark leads UEFA’s Group 1 with 18 points, the only team in the group yet to lose a match. Saturday’s match in Copenhagen against the second place Swedes (15 points) can punch their ticket to South Africa, provided they win. Even if they draw, the Danes will likely go through, as they will be three points up on Sweden, have a five goal edge in differential, and would close out qualifying at home against Hungary (fourth place, 13 points) only needing a point to advance.
This is clearly a must-win for Sweden, and not only because they are trying to track down the Danes. They are only two points up on Portugal (third, 30 points) and Hungary (trailing Portugal on differential). With those two countries facing each other on Saturday in Lisbon, Sweden should expect one of the two to be at sixteen points come Sunday morning.
Sweden has won three qualifiers in a row, including an impressive road win over Hungary in the last international break that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic score what might have been the most important goal of his career. With the game tied in second half stoppage time, Zlatan was put through on a breakaway which he converted (with a bit of luck) to give Sweden three points in Budapest.
On Saturday, Ibrahimovic will again be the best player on the pitch and will be given an opportunity to will his nation to South Africa. Denmark, however, have already contained Cristiano Ronaldo, getting four points from Portugal in qualifying while keeping the Portuguese star off the scoresheet. That feet is in addition to the Danes being the best, most consistent team in a group of which they were not expected to make it out. Coach Morten Olsen deserves a lot of credit for maintaining his team’s focus while instilling them with the confidence to win in Portugal and Sweden while getting a draw in Hungary.
I expect this match to play out much like the Denmark-Portugal match last break, where a determined Portuguese team were unable to convert early determination into a goal. Denmark eventually took an early lead that enabled them to get a result when Portugal’s Liedson equalized in the second half. The talented Portuguese found further opportunities scarce, and as long as Denmark can contain Ibrahimovic in the same way they were able to contain Ronaldo, I like the Danes to get at least a point.
Prediction: 1-1 draw