A strong showing by Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden in the qualifiers for the 2016 European Championship signals the resurrection of Scandinavian football.
An impressive Euro 2016 qualification campaign by Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden has firmly put Scandinavian football back on the map. Iceland created history on Sunday when they drew 0-0 with Kazakhstan to become the smallest European nation to qualify for the European Championship. They currently sit 7 points clear of 3rd placed Turkey in Group A with two matches remaining.
The other three Scandinavian nations are also on the verge of qualification as they currently occupy 2nd position in their respective groups.
The top 2 countries in each group will qualify directly for the tournament while the 3rd placed teams will battle it out against each other in a play-off round.
Dark Days in Scandinavia
Sweden and Denmark emerged as the traditional powerhouses of Scandinavian football since the turn of the millennium. Since Euro 2000, no Scandinavian team apart from the two has been able to qualify for a major international tournament (EUROs and World Cup). Norway was the last one to do so when they qualified for the finals of the 2000 European Championship held in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The condition of Scandinavian football deteriorated from 2004-2012, as only one team from the region managed to qualify for a major international tournament, oscillating between Sweden and Denmark.
Even after qualifying, their performance in these tournaments left a lot to be desired. Apart from Euro 2004 when both Denmark and Sweden made it to the last 8, none of the Scandinavian nations have been able to qualify for the quarter finals of any major international tournament.
However, Scandinavian football truly reached its nadir in 2014 when none of the teams from the region were able to qualify for the FIFA World Cup held in Brazil.
YES We qualified for EURO 2016! Thanks for all the terrific support and see you in France! pic.twitter.com/InQmjTzq2a
a Knattspyrnusambandi (@footballiceland) September 6, 2015
Lack of genuine world class talent has been cited by many as the biggest reason for the downfall of Scandinavian football. The footballing philosophy of these countries is often built around personality driven cults such as those of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) and Jon Dahl Tomasson (Denmark).
Lack of team cohesion in their ranks is another reason why Scandinavian teams have failed to perform at the very highest level. Due to the economically poor state of their local leagues, many of the national players ply their trade outside their country of birth across different leagues in Europe.
a The best Scandinavian players are playing outside of Scandinavia due to economic reasons. That means that the clubs are lacking individual class. Of course the remaining players do not have as good skills as the top players in Italy, England and Germanya , says Flemming Rossen, a Scandinavian scout for Bundesliga club Hannover 96.
Hooliganism is another menace that has plagued Scandinavian football in the past decade. Flares hurled on visiting players on the pitch, gruesome violence in the stands and persistent fighting outside the stadium between rival fans has instilled fear in the hearts and minds of fans and players alike.
In one such example, fans of Swedish club AIK hurled stones at the players and staff of Bulgarian club Levski Sofia in a Europa League qualifier in 2010. AIK were fined a 60,000 by UEFA for their troubles. “It’s shocking. Sweden is a civilized country and such scenes are completely inadmissible. I’ve been to so many countries and I’ve never seen such things,” said Levski President, Todor Batkov, who was himself was hit by a bottle from the stands.
A Bright Future Ahead
The recent resurgence of Scandinavian football has taken many by surprise. Denmark and Sweden are back to playing the level of football that we have come to expect of them in the past. Denmark has suffered just a single defeat in the six matches they have played in their group so far and are one win away from qualifying for Euro 2016.
Sweden currently sits one point ahead of Russia in 2nd place in their group. However, they have the luxury of an easier run in as they face whipping boys Liechtenstein and minnows Moldova in two of their final three qualifying matches in the group.
Norway, who beat a star-studded Croatian team by two goals to nil in Oslo on Sunday night, have upset the odds in their group and are on the verge of qualifying for their first major international tournament since 2000.
However, Iceland has been the real fairy tale story of the EURO 2016 qualifiers. The tiny island nation has astonishingly clinched qualification from a group comprising the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Turkey with two matches remaining.
Critics will point to the fact that the increase in the number of participating countries in the European Championship from 16 to 24 has made it easier for the Scandinavians to qualify. However, the fact that all the Scandinavians currently occupy the automatic qualification spots in their groups negates that criticism.
Furthermore, the performances put in by the players of these Scandinavian nations must be analyzed in relation to their dismal showing in the recent past. The fans will be hoping that the relative success enjoyed by Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Norway will sprinkle renewed hope upon the future of the sport in their countries.
Scandinavian football may just have left its darkest days behind for good.