Sweden versus Denmark. An eternal conflict between moody telly and a kitchen drawer filled with unwanted allen keys. One is busy scoffing down suspiciously testicular-looking meatballs, while the other is six hours deep into a Lars von Trier film about wanking.
But on Saturday this chunky-jumpered rivalry will take the form of a new chapter in one of international football’s not-quite-interesting beefs.
The two Scandinavian semi-superpowers find themselves groin-deep in the grubby business of the playoffs, largely through comparably rubbish qualifying campaigns.
Sweden’s campaign crumbled like a thin ginger biscuit, failing to perform when it mattered most and finishing third to an impressive Austria and an ok-sort-of-ish Russia.
Denmark meanwhile, in the ‘Billy-Less-Mates’ land of 5-team Group I missed out to Portugal and Albania – partly thanks to a particularly awful goalless draw against bottom placed Armenia. (Although it would be a disservice to our pastry munching pals if we failed to mention Albania qualifying two points ahead of the Danes, having benefited from 3 free points as a result of that Serbian ‘bother’).
And, with one of these teams needing to fling a particularly pissy snowball into the face of their local rival, all eyes turned to two men with a habit of yellowing many an opponent’s snowman.
Falling Zlat In The Big Games
Bursting out of a poorly constructed bookcase called Spöink is a man who needs no introduction – but would probably kick you through the wall if you didn’t give him one. Zlatan Ibrahimović is part pantomime scoundrel, part dark-alley ruffian and part football wizard.
Gazing down from his lofty, self-constructed pedestal, Zlatan can look back on a club career that has seen him play for European giants Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain. He’s also one of the very few players who have the numbers to match the names, currently lounging in the all-time top scorer hammock for both Sweden and PSG.
And yet, judged against his own towering self-regard, Zlatan’s performance in qualifying is, at best, semi-skimmed Ibrahimović. He may have scored 8 times in qualifying but only one of those came against their main rivals in the group – a last minute consolation when Sweden were already 4-0 down to Austria.
His reputation for magnificence is probably only matched by one for vanishing – for every 35-yard bicycle-kick goal against England there’s a Champions League loss to Arsenal where, essentially, Zlatan melted like a Milky Way clamped between Steve Bruce’s sweltering thighs.
The counterpart to Zlatan’s battering and bullying is Denmark’s own, distinctly quieter, magician – Christian Eriksen. Only 23-years-old, Eriksen has already racked up 55 international caps while at domestic level he’s subtly prodding an impressive Spurs team into an almost secret creep up the Premier League table.
But, a little like his gobby Scandi cousin, Eriksen too has a reputation for drifting out of the action. He didn’t manage a single goal during qualifying, despite consistently showing for Spurs that he has the talent to ping a free kick through a gerbil’s anus from a thousand yards.
It’s a clash between two very different talents, in two equally uninspiring teams. Much of Sweden’s midfield creativity comes through (cough) Arsenal legend Kim Källström and Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson, while Christian Eriksen has the impossible task of engineering the one chance Nicklas Bendtner won’t miss.
It’s a lot of pressure for two talented, but unreliable stars. Zlatan may be happy plundering goals against French defences with all the resistance of a mild brie, but he has yet to score in the Champions League this year. Eriksen meanwhile, despite playing an important role in an improving Spurs team, hasn’t particularly contributed dazzling Premier League stats for creating chances or making assists.
So it’s perhaps a little bit lazy to suggest that whoever of these two talismans pulls their pants up the highest will drag their team to play-off success. But, take Zlatan and Eriksen out of this fixture and I think I can safely say we’d all rather be watching The Killing and building a coffee table named Flänge.