Paul Marcuccitti

Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Super Scandinavia

    I've had a day or two to digest the fact that Denmark won Group A and that, incredibly, Sweden won Group F - the "Group of Death". I've looked back at the predictions I made for this site and I had the Danes finishing second in their group (OK, not too far off there) but I had the Swedes finishing bottom of Group F - yes, bottom!

    Am I disappointed? Of course not! I've already admitted that I love the Danes and I have plenty of admiration for the Swedes too.

    Now, as all of you reading this article would know, you won't find better comment on the World Cup on any other site. Give me my WCA colleagues' columns over the "pro" journalists any day.

    But it never hurts to read other perspectives so I occasionally visit other sites and, since Scandinavia's double group success, I've been looking for all the praise that has been, rightfully, heaped on the Danes and Swedes. Except ... well ... there hasn't been very much - hardly any, in fact.

    If I was a fan of Denmark and/or Sweden (hang on ... I am!), I would be quite annoyed. And it wouldn't just be because of the coverage of France and Argentina going out because it's understandable that both eliminations come as quite a shock.

    No, the annoying thing is a strange bias that I find among many football journalists and commentators. It's a bias that suggests an inferiority of the Scandinavian (or northern European) teams and their style of play. You'd, perhaps, expect this attitude from South Americans or southern Europeans but I haven't been visiting sites from those parts of the world (with the exception of "La Gazzetta dello Sport", seeing as I can read Italian reasonably well).

    The following was on Britain's "... there remains a global sympathy for the attractive sides who have been queueing at the checkout desks this week. How can we wave farewell to African champions Cameroon, heartbroken South Africa, Nigeria, Uruguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica when workmanlike Ireland, Germany, England, Sweden and Denmark are still strutting their unfunky stuff? It just doesn't seem fair."

    And then on to Soccernet (which, admittedly, is part of ESPN) and its main World Cup page. Its feature opinion piece is by an Argentine who rightly criticises his team and coach, yet can't resist saying, "...if you think of how much Argentina gave to achieve victory and how little luck they received in return, and then how little Sweden added to the spectacle and what a huge reward they got, you can't help but sympathise with Bielsa."

    Everywhere you look, it's the same old story. Poor old Argentina, knocked out by those defensive, boring Swedes. And poor old France/Uruguay, what a loss for the tournament that we're left with Denmark instead...

Please, give me a break!

    Now, I'm going to make a couple of statements which may, at first glance, seem quite simple but which are, nonetheless, quite rational: Argentina and France are going home because they deserve to be going home; the Swedes won Group F because they deserved to win Group F; and the Danes won Group A because they deserved to win Group A.

    Riveting stuff, huh? Well, maybe not, but if no one else carries the flags for Scandinavia, it's going to have to be me.

    Because, let me assure you, if Sweden had been wearing light blue shirts and Mjällby and Jakobsson had surnames like ... oooh ... Nesta and Cannavaro (or Samuel), the reactions on Wednesday would have sounded something like, "...those Italians/Argentineans are so hard to get past when they're protecting a lead, you really can't afford to make mistakes against teams of their quality..."

    And if Argentina had been England (OK, perish the thought!) it would have been "...the problem with England is the lack of creativity and poor finishing - there are no excuses for not finding a way through..."

    Denmark versus France? No different. Let's stay in our parallel universe for a moment and pretend that Jon Dahl Tomasson was actually Hernan Crespo or Christian Vieri "...and that's the problem you face when you play such a splendid counterattacking side, they hit you on the break like that..."

    This same bias even applies in episodes off the field. No matter what that loudmouthed, fat idiot, goalkeeper of Paraguay says, he's a "character". Do you think people would describe David Seaman the same way if he regularly made similar comments?

    Well, in case you hadn't already guessed, I'm quite fed up with it all.

    I have my doubts about the 2002 World Cup going to Denmark/Sweden/England but I'm delighted to see them all in the last 16. Seeing as we have two Englishmen at WCA, I'll leave England aside and concentrate on the Scandinavians.

    I'll start with Sweden and I think it's fair to say that what the team lacks in "stars", it makes up for in cohesion and intelligence. What impresses me most about the Swedes is their refusal to panic. No Ljungberg against Argentina? Allbäck not quite on song? No matter. Linderoth, Alexandersson and the Svenssons did the job. At the back, yes, Mjällby and Jakobsson were outstanding - I was almost in tears of laughter as the Argentineans continually placed their crosses into the penalty area in the second half for Mjällby to nod away. Were they waiting for a mistake? (If it had been England continually bombing in those crosses, what would the critics have said?) And, when needed, Magnus Hedman, who should surely be playing club football at a higher level, was impassable.

    Sweden did what was needed (just as it had against Nigeria and England). And Senegal will have the same problem against Sweden that the Group of Death teams had - the Swedes have bags of international experience and no glaring weaknesses in their team. Even more apparent is that this group of players is clearly not short of self-confidence. Underestimate them at your peril.

    The problem I'm facing as Denmark lines up to play England in the Round of 16 is that I don't want to see either eliminated yet. But one has to go, I'm afraid, and I'll certainly go on supporting the survivor.

    While I would say that the Swedes competently did the job required of them against Argentina, I'd go one step further with the Danes - they were awesome against France. Yes, you heard me, awesome. Morten Olsen's game plan was faultless and, even though Denmark doesn't quite have the calibre of players that England has available, I'd make the Danes an even money bet. This is an international "derby match" and the Danes have more than enough quality to win it. I'd prefer to see England win ... and I'm very, very nervous.

    Denmark's defence has looked quite solid and, in fact, both goals conceded by the Danes so far have been rather special. And behind the back four is a chap called Thomas Sørensen - one of the best 'keepers of the tournament to date.

    Jon Dahl Tomasson is in such fine form at the moment that Danish fans must be wondering what their team would be doing if Ebbe Sand was also firing. And here's the other thing to like about this team - they have genuine wingers (how pleasing it is to see Grønkjaer fully recovered from injury). For those of you that are younger than me (I'm 28), a "winger" is a player who plays wide on the left or right in an attacking position. You may have read about wingers somewhere if you have a few football history books.

    Yes, it has been Super Scandinavia so far. But we enter the knockout phase now and, no matter how well they've gone, the Scandinavian interest in this World Cup could be over before the end of the weekend. I don't think it will be - Denmark looks evenly matched with England and I'd give Sweden a slight edge over Senegal.

    But let me assure you of something that will happen (or rather, won't happen) when the tournament ends for these teams - unless some really bad decisions from match officials cost them, you won't hear me whining and complaining about how unlucky they were. And I won't bore you with sob stories about how much poorer the tournament will be without them. I'll just tell it like it is and get on with the show.

    There's a lot to be said for a no nonsense attitude. Just ask those teams from northern Europe who have, deservedly, exceeded expectations.



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