In an idea in no way stolen from any popular football website, here are the Nordic winners and losers of the international week just past:
The Faroe Islands
Two penalties, a red card and an unlikely outcome may cast a pall of suspicion over the 2-0 defeat of Estonia, but for now let’s enjoy the moment. On a cold, windy Tuesday night in Toftir (population about 830), the Islanders recorded only their second competitive win in a decade. The first was in 2009 against another Baltic side, Lithuania, in the early days of Brian Kerr’s reign. The Irishman has since done a terrific job organising the Faroes, and the improvement was evident in the reverse fixture, when Estonia needed two late goals to win 2-1 in Tallinn. Kerr’s work finally paid off as playmaker Christian Holst, one of the Faroes’ few professional players, ran the show, while at the other end his Silkeborg team-mate Kaimar Saag belted a sitter out of the ground. One suspects they weren’t in a hurry to fish that ball out of Skálafjørður after the game.
The absence of the injured Jon Knudsen meant there was a vacancy between the pipes for Norway. Rune Jarstein can be frustratingly nervy, and his club side Viking are having a terrible time, propping up the Norwegian league with just one win in six games. However, he got the nod for the game against Portugal ahead of Espen Bugge Pettersen, who is having a rather better season with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Molde™. Jarstein played it safe in Lisbon, often palming shots rather than risk trying to hold on to them, but his positioning and footwork were solid and he couldn’t be blamed for Hélder Postiga’s excellent winning goal.
“I haven’t played for three weeks…two training sessions and then today’s match” said El Zlatan after the game against Finland. He wasn’t even supposed to feature heavily, but an injury to the part-Finnish Ola Toivonen forced Ibra’s introduction after only 25 minutes. He scored three and set up another as Sweden won 5-0.
The youngest player at the 2010 World Cup and now, after coolly slotting home against Iceland, the youngest Danish scorer in a European qualifier. The previous holder of that particular record? Michael Laudrup.
In his first qualifying campaign, Sweden’s coach has found a system that works. Their 4-2-3-1 accommodates Johan Elmander as well as Zlatan Ibrahimović, and gives Mikael Lustig the freedom to storm forward from right-back. Top spot is probably going to the Netherlands, but Sweden could yet avoid the playoffs by being the best of the second-placed teams. In any case, Hamrén’s reign has been a welcome change from the functional plateau of the Lars Lagerbäck years.
Olof Mellberg and Daniel Majstorović
Just in case they’re reading this. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of either of them.
Oh, dear. Mixu Paatelainen has quite a job on his hands, but he has time on his side too. The aim for Finland is to compete for qualification to the 2016 Championships, but the hard work begins now. Finland’s defence was abject in Stockholm, and the team was utterly unconvincing in the 1-0 win in San Marino that was Paatelainen’s first competitive fixture. Sami Hyypiä is gone and Jari Litmanen was slightly surprisingly left out of the squad, heralding a new era for the Eagle Owls. It was always going to get worse before it got better, and hopefully it won’t get any worse than this. Three of the remaining four qualifiers are at home, and a couple of good results would provide a platform on which to build a strong team for next time around.
Norway coach Egil Olsen doesn’t experiment with line-ups, and he takes friendlies very seriously. Add that to Norway’s direct style of play, and it was always going to be difficult for “Moa” to displace John Carew in the starting eleven. He got his chance in the friendly against Lithuania, though, but was taken off after a crushingly dull first half. It looks like he’ll be an impact substitute for the rest of the qualifying campaign and, should Norway make it, the tournament itself. He still has a role to play, but it’s a shame to see a player so impressive with Hannover reduced to cameo appearances.
At the end of next week it will be a year since Nicklas Bendtner slid in at the far post to equalise against Cameroon in Pretoria. That was his most recent international goal. Captain Modesty drew a blank again in the win over Iceland. He’s still the best choice for his country up front – his ability to drop deep and link play is underrated – but at the moment only the goalscoring contribution from Denmark’s midfield and wingers is keeping Bendtner’s profligacy from becoming more costly.
Not really through any fault of his own, this one. The top scorer in the Swedish league with eight goals in ten games, Hysén (son of Glenn and half-brother of Anton, since you ask) deserved a chance in the Sweden team. He got it against Moldova, but went off injured after forty minutes. He’d recovered in time for the Finland game, but Emir Bajrami came back into the side and scored Sweden’s fifth with a cool chip. It’s more difficult for home-based players to hold down a place than it is for those playing in bigger leagues, and Hysén – who is yet to score a competitive goal for Sweden – will have to make the most of the few chances he gets.
The aforementioned 4-2-3-1 means that Sweden have moved away from traditional wingers. Nobody has felt the impact more keenly than Wilhelmsson, who has started on the bench for every qualifier and played a grand total of two minutes (I’m being generous). His best attribute is his speed, but at the age of thirty-one and playing in Saudi Arabia, Wilhelmsson isn’t going anywhere fast at the moment.