Swedes show Dutch courage
Sweden’s 3-2 victory over the Netherlands to qualify for Euro 2012 may have surprised many observers, but Swedish footballers have a long history of success against Dutch opposition.
The home of “Total Football” has for many years been something of a finishing school for Swedish footballers, and five of the players in the victorious Sweden squad play their club football in the Netherlands.
Many others have passed through Holland on their way to better things.
“Holland is not unlike Sweden. When they get there, Swedish players are well-schooled and it’s a good country to go to, especially as a first stop (in their career),” Henrik Larsson told the Reuters Sports Blog the day after the Swedes handed the Dutch their only defeat of the qualifying campaign.
“They play good football and most people there speak English, so you can make yourself understood much easier than in a league that has a more difficult language,” Larsson said.
It’s an atmosphere that Swedes seem to thrive in.
Larsson made a name for himself at Feyenoord in Rotterdam before going on to play for Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United, and his former international strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Ajax from Malmo FF before moving to Juventus in Serie A.
Many of those who did the most damage to the Dutch in Stockholm play for clubs in Holland. Ola Toivonen, who scored the winning goal for Sweden, is at PSV Eindhoven together with goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, who did his best to keep them out at the other end.
On the bench sat Emir Bajrami of Twente, and defenders Andreas Granqvist and Jonas Olsson have both played in Holland before moving to Italy and England respectively.
But it was former Feyenoord and NAC Breda striker Johan Elmander that did the most damage. Now at Galatasaray in Turkey, Elmander tore the Dutch defence to shreds and despite not scoring himself, he was behind all three of Sweden’s goals.
Despite being so familiar with their Dutch opponents, few expected the Swedes to beat a team that had previously hammered them 4-1 in the qualifiers, and coasted to nine victories in their first nine games of the campaign.
“You would never have tipped 3-2, 1-0 to Sweden maybe. But Sweden did well, and it’s brilliant for Swedish football and the national team. I’m happy for the boys,” Larsson said.
One of “the boys” intends to put the famed Dutch sense of tolerance to the test on his return. A euphoric Rasmus Elm told Reuters after the game that he would wear his Swedish shirt to AZ Alkmaar training on his return to the Netherlands later in the week.
Asked if the reaction might not be entirely positive, Elm gazed into the distance, enjoying the moment of victory.
“We’ll see. We’ll see,” he said, before heading to the team bus and the inevitable celebrations.
PHOTO: Sweden’s Ola Toivonen (bottom) celebrates with teammate Sebastian Larsson after scoring during their Euro 2012 Group E qualifying soccer match against the Netherlands at Raasunda stadium in Stockholm October 11, 2011. REUTERS/Pontus Lundahl/Scanpix