All kicking off

On Tuesday night the streets of Sweden were awash with yellow and blue, as Swedes in their thousands celebrated peace on Earth, the end of poverty and the discovery of a cure for all known diseases.

Or at least that’s what you’d think.

But actually Sweden’s football team had just qualified for the quarter finals of Euro 2004 with a 2-2 draw against arch-rivals Denmark. They will play Holland on Saturday.

“Fix!” cried the Italians, whose team would have qualified if the score had been anything other than 2-2. Despite the fact that in the 44-year, 161-game history of the tournament there have only been three 2-2 draws, this was no fix. It was a blood and thunder match with missed chances at both ends, played out in front of 29,000 baying Scandinavians.

With their horned viking helmets the Danish fans captured the flavour of the night, while the sight of 10,000 Swedes in Pippi Longstocking wigs at least ensured there was no chance of violence after the game. In fact, Mattias Jonson’s last minute equalizer ensured that centuries of acrimony were put aside for an evening of Nordic mirth at the expense of the weeping Italians.

Tuesday night may have been harmonious, but every shaven-headed, jackboot-stomping, neck-tattooed lover of the beautiful game knows that football and fighting go hand in clenched hand.

Apparently this applies not just in England but in Sweden too. After last Friday’s match between Sweden and Italy, two gangs of Swedish supporters met in Östermalmstorg in central Stockholm for a post-match punch-up.

According to Saturday’s Dagens Nyheter, around sixty people, who had been drinking in nearby bars, joined in the fighting until police turned up just after midnight. Most of those involved – who were said to be supporters of rival Stockholm teams Hammarby and Djurgården – disappeared in the streets around the square, but police arrested six people.

One man was taken to Karolinska hospital with a shattered nose, but police said he was unwilling to provide any information about his assailants. Those taken into custody were no more forthcoming.

“None of them could explain why they were covered in the man’s blood,” a police spokesman told DN. “Perhaps they were trying to help him.”

A bemused DN said that the men were all released early on Saturday morning, but “why they met there and why they began fighting was still unclear”. What is even more unclear is why DN thinks football hooligans need a reason for fighting.

Which brings us unpleasantly to the news that a match between two teams of 15 year old boys in the St Eriks Cup ended in members of one of the teams being reported for persecution of a minority group.

The game was between the Jewish club IK Makkabis and Iftin KoIF, whose members are mainly Muslim Somalis. DN reported that throughout the game the Iftin players “shouted phrases like ‘death to the Jews’, ‘leave Palestine’ and ‘crush Zionism'”. At the end of the game the captain of Iftin said “we thank the Jews and their referee”, before fighting broke out between the two teams.

Iftin KoIF has been reported to the police while IK Makkabis has asked the Stockholm Football Association to throw the team out of the league.

“This sort of thing is completely unacceptable,” said Lena Posner-Körösi, chairman of Stockholm’s Jewish congregation. “Should we be forced to ask for police protection when our boys want to play football?”

Fredrik Malm, a member of Stockholm city council, said that racist abuse in connection with a football game was unjustifiable.

“The nature of sport is that it should cross all divides,” he told DN. “Transferring the Palestinian conflict to 14 and 15 year old lads is not something we can ignore.”

The parents of the boys in the Iftin KoIF team apologised for the incident through Abdirisak Aden, the chairman of the Swedish-Somali institute, but said that throwing the team out of the league would only make things worse. The real causes of the problem, they said, were segregation and schools’ failure to be clear about what co-existence and diversity really means.

“It is no defence for the actual incident, but to put an end to segregation in Stockholm’s suburbs requires huge investment, in schools and society in general,” said Abdirisak Aden.

“Personally I think that even the Stockholm Football Association has to take responsibility,” he added.


Croatian player tests positive ahead of Sweden match

Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, a day ahead of the country's Nations League match with Sweden, the Croatian football federation (HNS) said.

Croatian player tests positive ahead of Sweden match
Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic (left) tested positive for coronavirus on Friday. Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP
“Brozovic's Inter Milan and Swedish epidemiologists were informed about the positive test,” an HNS statement said.
The player's positive result came two days after defender Domagoj Vida was informed of a positive Covid-19 test after playing the first half of a friendly with Turkey in Istanbul.
Apart from Brozovic, 27, one staff member also tested positive.
They were both isolated from other members of the national team.
After Sweden, Croatia play another Nations League game against Portugal on Tuesday.
Croatia, runners-up at the 2018 World Cup, are third in their Nations League group which also includes France, the team that beat them to the World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and Sweden.