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The Denmark-Sweden Football Rivalry Over the Years

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Journalism and Russian Area Sudies.

An image of the scoreboard displays the score in the Denmark-Sweden match at Euro 2004. This result sent both nations into the quarter-finals much to the dismay of Italy.

An image of the scoreboard displays the score in the Denmark-Sweden match at Euro 2004. This result sent both nations into the quarter-finals much to the dismay of Italy.

In football, international rivalries have interested football fans everywhere. But when a traditional competition lasts for a century, it becomes more than an extraordinary fixture, especially within Northern Europe.

From humble beginnings, the Denmark-Sweden rivalry escalated to heights unimaginable, especially since 1992. For over a century, Denmark and Sweden contested in almost every major event. Whether it is the annual meetings during the Nordic Cup or even the playoffs for a spot at the European Championships, both nations offered great matches and even bizarre incidents.

It has been nearly four years since both nations had met when Sweden won a playoff against Denmark to qualify for Euro 2016.

Leading the Way

It has been nearly four years since both nations had met when Sweden won a playoff against Denmark to qualify for Euro 2016.

Denmark and Sweden first met in 1913. Within the first three years, Denmark, silver medalists at the 1912 Summer Olympics in football, enjoyed winning successes. That success began with Denmark winning 8-0 at home as the game featured a hat trick from Kristian Gyldenstein.

It also saw the start of a stellar scoring career for one player. To date, he remains Denmark's joint all-time leading goalscorer with 52 goals. Poul "Tist" Nelsen scored the first of his 15 career goals against Sweden in the contest. Nelsen followed that by scoring six goals at Stockholm's Olympiastadion as Denmark cruised 10-0 that same year.

It would not be until 1916 that Sweden won its first meeting against Denmark, and the two nations often met each year. When the 1920s came, the rivalry featured more than friendly matches.

Throughout the 20th century, Denmark and Sweden often competed in Scandinavia's main tournament: the Nordic Football Championships. This competition served as a litmus test for the countries, especially when the Olympics was the key major championship in football before the World Cup came in existence.

In Sweden's case in 1924, it would be the nation's first significant test following its bronze medal since the Summer Olympics in France. Sweden's first game following the Olympics happened to be the first game in the Nordic Football Championships.

Sweden faced Denmark in the first game of the tournament at what was the Idrætsparken in København. There, Alf Aage Olsen scored two minutes into the game. Denmark held an early lead before Ernst Nillson doubled the lead in the second half.

However, Sweden came back in style during the second half. He scored three goals earlier in the month, including two goals on June 1 against Egypt. Per Kaufeldt scored in the 56th minute to halve the deficit before Sweden's leading scorer in the Olympics complete the comeback. He scored twice in the Olympics against the Netherlands to secure the bronze medal six days earlier at the Stade Olympique de Colombes. Sven Rydell scored another two goals as this came within nine minutes to help Denmark 3-2.

For Rydell, it would be the start of a scoring run in which he finished with 15 goals in the ten matches of the tournament. The 15th goal also came in the final game of the five-year competition in 1928. While Rydell scored the goal for Sweden, Denmark would be on course to win the Nordic Football Championship headed for its first major. Denmark began the final game in style by scoring twice in the first eight minutes.

Michael Rohde and Pauli Jørgensen put Denmark up 2-0, and Nilsson added a third goal before Rydell's goal two minutes after Nilsson scored. Thirty-five years after the founding of its football association, Denmark celebrated its victory over Sweden by hoisting Jubilæumspokal (Danish: Anniversary Trophy).

Evenly Matched Amidst Swedish Success

What began as an experiment expanded to a four-year tournament. In the process, Sweden and Denmark would become a yearly fixture every year, particularly during the Nordic Football Championship. Sweden would dominate the series for the next four decades; this period saw the nation win nine straight Nordic Cup titles.

It was never the case that Sweden often dominated Denmark in the head-to-head series as Sweden also had two World Cup appearances in 1934 and 1938. Instead, the games in the 1930s were often entertaining and many times had high-scoring results. That includes Sweden's first game following its exit from the 1934 World Cup as Sweden faced Denmark in København and one of Sweden's players.

In history, he is the third player ever to score in a World Cup qualifier when Sweden faced Estonia in 1933. Days after that qualifier, Bertil Ericsson scored twice to give Sweden a 2-0 lead. However, Denmark came back, with Eyolf Kleven scoring what would be the game-tying and game-winning goals as Denmark won 3-2. However, in 1934 Ericsson received the nickname Danskdödaren (Swedish: Danish killer) for the performance he had. Ericsson scored another four goals for Sweden in the 5-3 victory.

Finally, in 1939 Sweden overcame an early goal by Denmark as four different goalscorers helped Sweden win 4-1 in another game in the Nordic Football Championships. Its next important match did not come until 1947 as World War II had halted the tournament.

Denmark and Sweden still played football even during the war.

Sweden's Gunnar Nordahl in action while playing his club football in Norrköping in 1948. Nordahl is considered one of Sweden's best players, despite never played for the country in a World Cup.

Sweden's Gunnar Nordahl in action while playing his club football in Norrköping in 1948. Nordahl is considered one of Sweden's best players, despite never played for the country in a World Cup.

Four Decades of Emerging Stars

Even with Denmark under Nazi-occupied rule and Sweden as a neutral nation, both countries still played friendly matches within both countries. It would not be until 1947 that the Nordic Football Championships continued. However, it was during the 1940s when one of Sweden's best players emerged.

One of Sweden's best players never to have played in a World Cup, Gunnar Nordahl scored the first of his career 43 goals for Sweden in a 3-0 victory on June 28, 1942. It was one of ten goals Nordahl scored against Denmark within the next five years. That also included a goal he scored against Denmark on Sept. 30, 1945. This date is significant for Sweden because Sweden won two games that day, with Nordahl scoring his goal in Sweden's 4-1 victory.

During the 20th century, each nation enjoyed its run of dominance. For Sweden, success came between 1952 and 1975 in which the country lost one out of 27 matches in that period. Among notable games include a 1957 event in København. To this date, Denmark established an attendance record of 51,600 in its 2-1 loss to Sweden. In 1959, meeting, Sweden, runners-up from the previous year's World Cup, shut out Denmark 6-0, with Harry Bild and Bengt 'Folet' Berndtsson each scoring twice in the match. That result came eight months after the nations played to an entertaining 4-4 draw. Berndtsson scored Sweden's fourth goal of the game, but it was in this game where another goalscorer came of age.

Denmark's third-best goalscorer with 42 goals, Ole Madsen scored his first two goals for Denmark in this match, which was only his second match. Madsen went on to score six goals against Sweden, and his last came on June 20, 1965. Madsen's goal helped Denmark win its first match against Sweden in 14 years with the 2-1 victory.

Denmark's next victory would not come until 1976. While Sweden participated in three World Cups in the 1970s, Denmark was getting the upper hand in the rivalry. In 1976, Denmark defeated Sweden and, for the next two decades, had its run of dominance. Part of that dominance happened as professionalism became a reality in 1978.

Denmark won the Nordic Football Championships in 1980 and 1985, and among its notable results during that stretch included a 2-1 victory in 1981. Denmark's second came from Preben Elkjær-Larsen as he was an integral part of the rise of "Danish Dynamite" during the 1980s. Three years later, Elkjær-Larsen also scored against Sweden as the game was part of preparations for Denmark road to Euro 1984.

Coming Out and Precursors

After 1985, the Nordic Football Championship rarely occurred as often as in the previous decades. There were meetings, and in the case of 1989 for Denmark, it was a route in an exhibition tournament. The 6-0 victory over Sweden saw Lars Elstrup score twice in the game, while four other players, including Michael Laudrup, scored as well.

Three years later, Sweden's match against Denmark meant more than ever in the rivalry. It happened to come at Euro 1992, the first time Sweden was even in this event. In only its second game. Sweden made history thanks to one of its forwards. Two years earlier, he scored against Brazil in the 1990 World Cup. In the 59th minute, Tomas Brolin scored the only goal of the game.

Sweden won its first game at a European Championships in 1992.

Denmark won its first European Championships that same year.

Now, Sweden and Denmark were worldwide established footballing nations. By 2000, Sweden and Denmark opened what would be the final installment of the Nordic Football Championships, contested in La Manga, Spain. It was here that Marcus Allback scored his first goal for Sweden.

Instead of yearly encounters, Sweden and Denmark often met now as preparations for essential fixtures - notably before the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Additionally, both nations also played a friendly before Euro 2000 in which Jörgen Petterson scored the only goal of the match as Sweden won the game.

Two Denmark's fans hold a banner ahead of the Denmark-Sweden match in Porto, Portugal.

Two Denmark's fans hold a banner ahead of the Denmark-Sweden match in Porto, Portugal.

Denmark's Jon Dahl Tomasson silences the crowd after scoring the first goal of the game in a Euro 2004 Group C match.

Denmark's Jon Dahl Tomasson silences the crowd after scoring the first goal of the game in a Euro 2004 Group C match.

Swedish players come over to congratulate Mattias Jonson after scoring the tying goal in a Euro 2004 match against Denmark. Jonson's goal made the match 2-2 and the result was what got Sweden and Denmark through to the quarterfinals.

Swedish players come over to congratulate Mattias Jonson after scoring the tying goal in a Euro 2004 match against Denmark. Jonson's goal made the match 2-2 and the result was what got Sweden and Denmark through to the quarterfinals.

To Draw or Not to Draw?

Never had the Denmark-Sweden rivalry taken more controversy and excitement than in Porto's Estadio do Bessa XXI. One question loomed ahead of the Sweden-Denmark match at Euro 2004 in a group stage finale. Do Denmark and Sweden play for a 2-2 draw?

Any high-scoring draw of at least 2-2 sends Denmark and Sweden into the quarterfinals, regardless of Italy's result against Bulgaria. Regardless, Denmark had to score in the match to reach the quarterfinals because a scoreless draw against Sweden and an Italy victory confirms Denmark's elimination. Even a 1-1 draw would not suffice for Denmark provided Italy wins by at least three goals.

Denmark received the early opportunities to score first against Sweden with Jesper Grønkjær delivering Denmark's best chance to score in the first 15 minutes. Denmark remained pressing on the offense and would enjoy its reward when Jon Dahl Tomasson launched a 20-yeard shot past Andreas Isaksson. Seven minutes later, Sweden incurred a costly yellow card as Erik Edman would be ineligible for the quarterfinal should Sweden advance.

By halftime, Sweden would still reach the quarterfinals as Italy had trailed 1-0 to Bulgaria. However, Sweden scored the tying goal two minutes into the second half, albeit in controversial circumstances. Thomas Sørensen took down Henrik Larsson in the penalty area, and Larsson converted the ensuing penalty kick. Sweden might have gained the momentum, but Tomasson would put Denmark back up after following a corner kick.

Denmark received another opportunity to score, and as things stood, both nations still would advance because Italy was drawing with Bulgaria. However, a player that had begun the tournament on the bench made sure Italy would be out. Mattias Jonson came on in Sweden's match against Italy, and his contributions in that game allowed him a start against Denmark. The decision worked as he scored in the 89th minute.

The 2-2 draw happened as Denmark and Sweden knocked Italy out of Euro 2004.

Nightmare at Parken

Unprecedented

On Jan. 27, 2006, the Denmark-Sweden rivalry entered unchartered waters as the nations would meet in at the qualifying phase for the 2008 European Championships. Denmark would host Sweden on June 2, 2007; the return fixture would take place in Solna on Sept. 8, 2007.

When the teams met in September, Sweden's scoreless draw would position them on course for qualification to Euro 2008. It was the June meeting that the turning points for both nations unfolded.

Ahead of the June meeting, Denmark was in fourth place in its qualifying group and trailed Sweden by five points for second place. Sweden had not won a game since defeating Iceland on Oct. 11, 2006, in a Euro 2008 qualifier. Denmark was in a must-win situation, but Sweden required 26 minutes to establish control of the match. Two goals from Johann Elmander, as well as a goal via a free-kick from Petter Hansson, had Sweden up 3-0. For Hansson, it was his first goal for Sweden.

However, Denmark would not concede defeat readily, and it scored a crucial goal as well in the first half. The goal came from an unlikely person as defender Daniel Agger scored only his second goal for Denmark thanks to Michael Gravgaard's header in the 34th minute. Denmark now trailed 3-1 and made its essential substitution after that goal, with Leon Andreasen coming on to replace Jan Kristiansen. A more natural goal scorer contributed when Tomasson scored his 46th international goal. Andreasen completed an improbable comeback 13 minutes later with his first career goal for Denmark.

However, Denmark's nightmare came right before stoppage time.

In the 89th minute, Denmark's Christian Poulsen and Sweden's Markus Rosenberg got involved in a struggle inside the penalty area. Poulsen punched Rosenberg in the stomach and received a red card following a conference amongst officials. Seconds after this dismissal, chaos unfolded when Ronni Nörvig attempted to attack referee Herbert Fandel, only for Gravgaard to intercept and halt the attack.

It would be a snap decision for Fandel to abandon the match, which ended up Sweden winning 3-0 on a forfeit victory.

This loss proved costly, as Denmark missed out on Euro 2008. But early in 2008, Denmark would get a chance for revenge against Sweden. Four days after Euro 2008 qualifying ended, the draw for World Cup qualifying had Denmark and Sweden face each other for the first time. On Jan. 6, 2008, the two dates would be confirmed, with both nations playing each other twice in 2009.

Redemption at Parken

Two Games and a Shock Qualifier

Denmark and Sweden would play twice within four months: on June 6, 2009, in Sweden and on Oct. 10, 2009, in Denmark. A lot changed, but since September 2006, Sweden ranked better in the FIFA Rankings than Denmark. However, Denmark was making a quick ascendancy in 2008. Before traveling to Sweden, Denmark had already been one of the surprises in qualifying after pulling off an impressive upset in Portugal.

Denmark looked to pull a victory in Sweden. I would have its first test of the match when defender Simon Kjær, debuting for Denmark in the game, conceded a penalty kick for a foul on Olof Mellberg. Thomas Sørensen stopped Kim Källström's ensuing penalty shot. Minutes later, Thomas Kahlenburg capitalized on a Swedish blunder and scored from close range.

There was only one goal in the game, but it proved to put Denmark on the precipice of its first major tournament in six years. When the teams met again, one goal also decided the game in a match contested between the two nations at Parken Stadium. The only goal of the game came in the 79th minute. He had received his first call-up for Denmark earlier in 2009; Jakob Poulsen launched a 25-meter shot put Sweden on the brink of an eventual elimination.

That goal eventually gave Denmark qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

After 2009 and the Playoff

After the 2010 World Cup, Denmark won the next two meetings, including a 2-0 victory on Nov. 11, 2011, with Nicklas Bendtner and Michael Krohn-Dehli, each scoring in that contest. Agger scored again as it was the lone goal when the nations met in 2014.

In 2015, the stakes would be higher for both nations as the two countries met in a playoff to see who would qualify for Euro 2016. Sweden had the advantage in the first leg, with goals from Emil Forsberg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Sweden went up 2-0 after 50 minutes. Nicolai Jørgensen added a vital away goal with only 10 minutes remaining. Three days later, Ibrahimovic would be the factor in getting Sweden to Euro 2016. His two goals proved crucial in sending Sweden to Euro 2016 with the 2-2 draw in København.

The nations' most recent meetings came in 2018 as both countries were preparing for the 2018 World Cup - both having qualified via a playoff route. On Jan. 11, 2018, Gustaf Nillson's late goal was the difference in a friendly played in Abu Dhabi. Less than five months later, both nations played to the first scoreless draw in this rivalry since 2007.

Now with over a century of meetings, Denmark and Sweden have seen this rival change from northern pride to a change at tussling with the world's best nations. Little did anybody see that a rivalry where the Nordic Cup was the ultimate prize shifted to a spot at the European Championships or the World Cup. Each nation has had its bragging rights. One thing is sure: no matter what is at stake. Denmark and Sweden will add to what has been one of Europe's longest rivalries.

© 2015 Antonio Martinez

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