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Sweden U-21 coach faces ban after halftime Balkan row

David Landes · 25 Jun 2009, 14:19

Published: 25 Jun 2009 14:19 GMT+02:00

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Söderberg faces suspension by UEFA, the governing body of European football and organizers of the tournament, for allegedly shoving a Serbian player during the halftime break of Sweden’s final qualifying match earlier this week, the Aftonbladet newspaper reports.

Sweden defeated Serbia 3-1 with two goals by tournament top scorer Marcus Berg, earning the squad enough points to snag second place in its group and advance to the semi-final against England, the top team in the other qualifying group.

Tempers flared throughout the match, which included 10 yellow cards, and saw Serbia reduced to nine players following red cards for Nenad Tomović and Nikola Petković.

And just as the teams were walking off at the half, Sweden’s Emir Bajrami, a native of Kosovo, was taunted by Serbia’s number seven, Milan Smiljanic.

“I knew that they were going to be on me because Kosovo and Serbia have often been at war with each other. He came up and taunted me, but he did so throughout the match as well,” Bajrami told Aftonbladet.

“I only understood about a quarter of what he said, but it was mostly cursing.”

Smiljanic’s provocation prompted coach Söderberg to come to the defence of his player, at which point he allegedly “pushed Serbia’s number seven”, according to a report filed with UEFA.

“I’m sorry, I was only protecting Emir,” Söderberg told the newspaper.

“I felt bad for him and didn’t push anyone.”

Sweden’s coaching supervisor Börje Sandgren defended the coach’s actions, however, in a separate letter to UEFA describing the incident.

“Their player followed Emir in an objectionable manner and we feel that a coach’s job is to protect his players in that situation,” wrote Sandgren.

Sandgren added that witnesses from the Swedish side claim Söderberg never pushed Smiljanic, and that the player grabbed the coach’s notebook from Söderberg’s hands and threw it to the ground.

According to Sandgren, things calmed down quickly, with both men shaking hands before parting ways.

“It was a UEFA representative who filed the complaint and we don’t share his version of what transpired,” Sandgren told Aftonbladet.

A decision on Söderberg’s possible suspension is expected to come on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s players are gearing up for a tough match against England, which is so far undefeated in the tournament, aconceding only two goals in three matches.

Story continues below…

But Sweden’s U-21 side, led by Berg and senior national team member Rasmus Elm, have a tournament leading 9 goals – 5 of which have been scored by Berg – and will be playing in front of a hometown crowd at Gothenburg’s Gamla Ullevi stadium.

Nevertheless, with midfielders Bajrami and Pontus Wernbloom on the bench after receiving second warnings in the Serbia match, Sweden will have to make some adjustments.

But co-coach Jörgen Lennartsson wasn’t giving anything away.

“We’re going to play the eleven players we feel have the best chance at winning the match, then you can speculate who it will be,” he told Aftonbladet.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:06 June 25, 2009 by jack sprat
Look forward to a tough, interesting, and fairly close game as Swedens team of exciting new prospects with home advantage take on a slightly more experienced England side.

An even more interesting game last night in the semi-final of the federation cup where the highly talented Spanish European Champions were surprisingly put to the sword and dumped out by a well organised USA side.
13:50 June 25, 2009 by mdl29907
I really need to say kudos to the coach for protecting his player. Racism has no place on a sports pitch; if it was as bad as described above the onus was really on the Serbian coach to bench his player.

With 2 red cards and 11 yellow it seems like perhaps the referees left it pretty wide open as well.

These actions also unfortunately tend to reinforce stereotypes about Serbians as racists and war criminals - again something the Serbian coach and staff should have been aware of in controlling their players.

I do not think Soderberg should be penalized in any way.
14:55 June 25, 2009 by spy
There is always some sort of drama with Kev-ball.
18:42 June 25, 2009 by rybo1
Soderberg deserves a medal.
22:32 June 25, 2009 by justanotherexpat
Nice one UEFA. Someone defending a victim of an example of clear race-based abuse is charged. What exactly is the charge against the perpetrator of the abuse, Smiljanic? Or did I miss something in the story?

UEFA. Uselessly Enforcing F*** All!
00:52 June 26, 2009 by jack sprat
There have also been quite a few incidents involving England players the last few seasons.

UEFA action was so weak and eventually watered down to such an extent as to be virtually meaningless and water on a ducks back to the offenders.

Why do they run these publicity campaigns when they dont even back up their own words?

They are a pathetic and misguided bunch of wimps who do little or nothing for the good of the game.
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