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Sweden sunk by dazzling debutant

Alexandre Pato showed why he is regarded as Brazil's next superstar as the teenager marked his international debut with a sublime strike to earn a 1-0 win over Sweden on Wednesday.

Sweden sunk by dazzling debutant

The 18-year-old only made his first appearance for AC Milan two months ago but is already being heralded as a phenomenal young talent.

So it was fitting he made such an instant impact in a friendly match in London arranged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brazil’s first World Cup final triumph.

That 5-2 win over the Swedes in 1958 established Pele as the game’s first global star.

Pato has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Pele, but he got off to the perfect start at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

Pato had only been on the pitch for 12 minutes as a second-half substitute when he punished Rami Shaaban’s mistake with a goal any of Brazil’s legendary figures would have been proud of.

If he does go onto establish himself as a Brazil icon, this was the moment when his legend was born.

With Kaka injured and Ronaldinho dropped by Dunga, Pato timed his claims for a regular place perfectly ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Argentina and the Olympic Games later this year.

The Swedes had the first chance when Kim Kaällström went close with a ferocious long-range effort that whistled over Julio Cesar’s crossbar. And Lars Lagerbäck’s team should have taken the lead when Markus Rosenberg burst clear but he shot wastefully wide.

London has become a second home to Brazil. This was their fifth friendly in the English capital in the last two years and their third visit to the Emirates.

Brazil’s Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva was in action on his home ground and Julio Baptista needed no introduction to the near-capacity crowd after his loan spell with the Gunners last season.

B

ut the midfielder didn’t score often for Arsenal and he was frustrated by Andreas Isaksson’s smart save midway through the half, then curled a free-kick narrowly past a post.

Diego was dictating Brazil’s tempo but for all their neat passing the Selecao lacked a cutting edge. It wasn’t long into the second half before Brazil’s fans began chanting for the introduction of Pato.

They didn’t have to wait long as Dunga sent on Pato in the 60th minute to a rapturous reception.

Mike Riley was in hot water a week ago when he failed to send off Chelsea’s Ashley Cole for his horror tackle on Tottenham’s Alan Hutton.

Now it was Brazil’s turn to be angered by the referee when he waved away their penalty appeals for Mikael Dorsin’s blatant push on Diego.

Pato had already played at the Emirates for Milan against Arsenal earlier this month. He was subdued that night but stole the show in the 72nd minute this time.

When Swedish substitute goalkeeper Shaaban miscued his clearance into Pato’s legs just outside the left-edge of the penalty area the teenager still had plenty to do.

He managed it with aplomb, lifting a perfectly-placed shot into the far corner from an actute angle to announce his arrival on the world stage.

SPORT

Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”

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