Scandinavian Spotlight: Small countires with big ambitions - just don't tell Fulham
Fulham were leading 2-1 and the game was in time added on when the hosts spurned a good chance to put things out of reach as Sa broke forward. With Duff free on the right hand side of the box he chose not to pass and the chance was lost. Odense worked the ball down the right and it was fired over to the far post where Djiby Fall headed home with six seconds left to send Fulham crashing out the competition. A cruel way to exit but they really should have killed the game off before then.
Copenhagen were in action yesterday but could only sign off with a bit of whimper as Standard Liege came calling. The Belgian side brought some cheer to their city, which of course has been rocked by the murderous attack on a Christmas market, when they took the lead against FCK in the 31st minute against the run of play. Batshuayi controlled the ball and turned his marker in one movement and fired a low shot to the keeper's right for the only goal of the game.
FCK pushed on after the break but couldn't break through some resolute defending and Standard could have added to their lead when they came close a couple of times towards the end of the game but 1-0 it finished.
Malmø rounded off their miserable campaign with a visit to Austria Vienna looking to add to their measly single point thus far. Unfortunately for them it was business as usual. Goalless at half-time they probably thought they had a chance to finish off in reasonable style but goals from Liendl (62) and Barazite (80) meant they ended up with just that single point. Somewhat embarrassingly this meant they were the second worst team in the competition only finishing ahead of pointless Shamrock Rovers.
In many respects this just goes to show the difference between the relative merits of the national sides and the domestic game in Scandinavia. Whereas the English league is packed with some of the biggest stars in the game, the national team is seen as underperforming for the last 40-odd years. Most of the big Danish, Swedish and Norwegian players ply their trade abroad, many in England, although a favourable tax system in Denmark means they can attract some of the players who don't go to the bigger countries.
The relative success of, in particular, FC København who have qualified for the knock-out phase of the Champions League once and the Europa League twice in the last three years has also meant that the Superliga has risen to 12th in the UEFA national league rankings. If this is maintained, the Danish Champions will qualify directly for the group stage of the UCL in 2012/13 with the runners-up in the third qualifying round. Not bad considering the country was ranked at a fairly lowly 23rd not that long ago. It's also Europe's 11th ranked in terms of attendances ahead of bigger nations such as Greece, Sweden and next year's Euro joint hosts Ukraine.
Both Sweden and the Danes will be hopeful of putting in some good performances at the Euros and their cause will certainly be helped by the fact so maany stars are plying their trades in bigger and better leagues. A quick glance at the squads for the last qualifying games for Euro 2012 shows that Denmark had 14 foreign-based players, Norway 13 and Sweden a massive 19.
A lot of these guys strut their stuff for some of the biggest clubs around playing with and against the best Europe has to offer. Manchester united, Liverpool, Roma, PSV, Ajax and AC Milan are just a few of the teams helping the Scandinavian nations punch above their weight on the world stage so if England, France and Ukraine think the Swedes are there to make up the numbers, forget it. Likewise Germany, Netherlands and Portugal will know they can take nothing for granted against Denmark in the toughest group of all.