Scandinavian football has been through the mill in recent years. After the 80s and 90s, a time in which players and teams from Europe’s frozen North became regular fixtures at the top table, the 21st century has seemed like a relatively lean time. Sweden’s recent run to the quarter-finals in Russia was a fair performance, but was also the first time they’d qualified for the tournament in twelve years. For their neighbours, Norway, things have been worse. Their last involvement in a major competition came in 2000, when they were knocked out of the Euros in agonising fashion. For the nation that gave us Solskjaer, Iversen, Carew and several Flos, times have been tough.
Tonight, Sweden make a trip across their eastern border to Oslo, where these two sides will play their first competitive international in more than 40 years. This is set to be a pivotal game for both sides’ chances of Euro 2020 qualification; sharing a group with Spain means that realistically only one of the neighbours can qualify directly for the big show next summer. Both should be capable of finishing ahead of Romania, Malta and the Faroe Islands, but there may need to be playoff assistance for one or both of the Scandi brothers. Our Bet of the Day looks at the chances of the two sides in tonight’s international derby game.
A close contest in store
Under the management of Lars Lagerback – a man with nineteen years of experience in the Swedish national set-up across three separate age groups, nine of those years managing the senior national side – Norway are enjoying a renaissance. They finished top of a Nations League group also including Bulgaria, Cyprus and Slovenia, and while their present squad isn’t on a par with their early 00s vintage, players such as Josh King and the Elyounoussi brothers Tarek and Mohammed are more than decent. They also have 20-year-old Martin Odegaard, under contract at Real Madrid but performing to a high level on loan at Vitesse in Holland.
Sweden, for their part, are managed by Janne Andersson, who took them a long way at the World Cup. The present squad is not as well-served for youth as the Norwegian setup, with tough-as-nails captain Anders Granqvist still one of the more reliable performers at the age of 33. They are, however, extremely tough to beat at this level (as Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland found out at the World Cup), and topped their own Nations League pool ahead of Russia and Turkey. Add in the inevitable beef over regional bragging rights, and this is sure to be a tight game. We’ll back a draw – priced at 11/5 by 888sport – as the likely outcome.
High energy, high intensity, low-scoring
Anyone who lived through the 90s and watched Norway’s exploits at USA 1994 will remember the scorn with which the side’s tactics were greeted. Long-ball, hoof-and-hope, uncultured rubbish, said every newspaper – pausing for the briefest moment after Egil Olsen’s side outplayed England in a 2-0 qualification win in Oslo. That win did a lot to ensure Norway’s progress to the finals, and to knock England out. The reputation of agricultural football has stuck with the Norwegian side, even though the bulk of their recent top players have been cultured ball-players.
Indeed, this match will see the home side bringing the silk while their visitors provide the steel, and the clash of approaches will have a major influence on the outcome. We saw enough of a flash when Norway lost 2-1 in Spain to see that they can be dangerous – but Sweden for their part did a canny and professional job in defeating Romania by the same score. Tonight, we’d expect both sides to get on the scoresheet, but probably just once each. A 1-1 draw won’t hurt either side too much, and if you back it at Coral you can get odds of 5/1 – a decent price for a score that feels almost too inevitable.
Little Brother to break the deadlock
The Elyounoussi brothers are following in a grand tradition of siblings to have represented Norway at the same time, with the Riise and Flo contingents also having pulled on the red shirt with great distinction. Tarek, the elder, is 31 and plays as a striker, but Mohammed – also known as “Moi” – may be the greater goal threat from the wing. A regular goalscorer for Molde and Swiss side FC Basel before his recent move to Southampton, the 24-year-old Moi has five goals in 22 appearances for his country – and he likes the big stage.
It’s well worth a punt on the younger brother here, at 9/1 with MansionBet, to open the scoring. His skill and pace will put a hard-working but slow-moving Swedish defence to the test, and he will play a major part in this game. With King and Bjorn Johnsen likely to prove a handful for the defenders, expect at least one Elyounoussi to profit from the space that opens up.
Bets of the Day
Draw (888, 11/5); Correct Score 1-1 (Coral, 5/1); M. Elyounoussi to score first (MansionBet, 9/1)