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Worrall: Chelsea march to glory

Chelsea 15 hours ago
Read
Jun 22, 2004

Conspiring to find excuses

Undignified, unrealistic and downright insulting.

The sheer suggestion of a Scandinavian stitch-up was completely unjustified and smacked of Italian paranoia. The rivalry between Denmark and Sweden would simply not allow it. A Scandinavian showdown was brewing, and the two nations were always going to do themselves proud.

Both camps reacted angrily to speculation about a so-called agreement to ensure that they reached the quarter-finals at the expense of the Azzuri. The usually cool Swedish joint coach, Tommy Soderberg, blew his top when Italian journalists pressed him about the possibility of his team colluding with Denmark to play out a 2-2 draw.

Soderberg reacted furiously during a press scrum at the team's hotel, smacking the table with his hand, banging his closed fist against his chest, speaking about 'passion and dignity' - the latter being something the Italians could learn about from their Nordic cousins.

Suggestions in Rome and Milan of a Scandinavian conspiracy also deeply offended the Denmark boss, Morten Olsen, who hit back by refusing to answer a single question from the Italian media about any collusion. AC Milan's Gennaro Gattuso had even suggested the use of 50 extra cameras to track every move of the game to ensure that there was no skulduggery - a kind of Nordic neighbourhood watch scheme.

Quite simply, anyone who watched these bitter rivals clash in Oporto would consider Gattuso's comments to be ludicrous. If one didn't know any better, one would say that the two neighbours were the best of friends, with similar languages, social democratic-inspired values and a common history that goes a long way back.

However, a closer look at the relationship between Danes and Swedes reveals that, while the battlefield match-ups ended long ago, not everyone has put history behind them.

Neighbours they may be, but as far as football is concerned, there is no friendly rivalry. Sweden are the country Denmark most want to beat, and there has always been intense rivalry between the two - their showdowns are as passionate as any England v Scotland or Spain v Portugal contests.

Bitter rivalry has triggered six wars between Denmark and Sweden. The Danes have not forgotten the years 1560-1720, when Sweden challenged Denmark for the position of the leading power in the Baltic region, and won. In the southern Swedish province of Skaane, which the Danes ruled for hundreds of years before losing it to Sweden in 1658, many of the towns still exhibit Danish architecture.

After 1658, Swedish King Karl Gustav insisted there be no communication between the two countries, and punished any contact with the death penalty. Needless to say, tensions have lessened over the years.

Yet Danes still get ruffled over the fact that Sweden remains the biggest country in Scandinavia, with the largest economy, the most political influence and a vibrant cultural scene. Ask a Dane what he thinks of Swedes, and he'll probably say they're arrogant, reserved and condescending. To get a Dane really riled, ask them why Danes can understand Swedish, but Swedes north of Skaane can't grasp a word of Danish.

Swedes, meanwhile, would smile and say that Danes suffer from a centuries-old inferiority complex. But, in true Scandinavian fashion, things almost never get ugly between the two neighbours - and that was certainly the case in Oporto. The match was firm but fair, their destinies were in their own hands - but there was no collusion, no taking "good neighbourliness" too far.

Aware that the Italians were nervously keeping tabs on the scoreline, aware that they controlled the fate of not two but three nations, Sweden tried to clip Denmark's wings, while Denmark battled to earn a championship victory over the country that beat them in the 1948 Olympics and again in the 1992 European Championships, despite the Danes going on to win that tournament.

This was winner takes all clash - a clash in which Iberian and Scandinavian bragging rights were on the line. Both nations fought gallantly, and it was shown - yet again - that there is little to split these Scandinavian rivals.

In dramatic scenes at Boavista's Bessa stadium, Italy produced a last-gasp goal to defeat the already-eliminated Bulgaria.

But weep not for the elimination of the Azzurri. Let them point their fingers. Let them use their conspiracy theories as an excuse for their failure. Neither the majority of the Italians' football, nor their attitude, deserved any better.