Absent Swedes share in World Cup fever

Absent Swedes share in World Cup fever
Despite Sweden's failure to qualify for this year's World Cup in South Africa, many Swedes plan to join in the fun when the month-long feast of football kicks off on Friday.

Sweden’s loss to neighbouring Denmark in October 2009 effectively ended Sweden’s hopes of qualifying for their third consecutive World Cup finals and signalled the end of the long managerial reign of Lars Lagerbäck.

Lagerbäck, and the stoic Swedes, soon picked themselves up from that disappointing night in Copenhagen however, with the former appointed to lead the Super Eagles of Nigeria in South Africa, and the latter left mulling their alternatives over who to plump for among the competing nations.

Some enthusiasts like Sune Nilsson, 69, have no time for residual qualifier bitterness and remember when their Nordic neighbours were a force in world football.

“Denmark would be my first choice as I like the way they play and remember enjoying the great teams with Laudrup and so on,” Nilsson told The Local.

“Then there is always England of course – Swedes tend to want it to go well for them, as it was the first foreign league that we got to watch, back when Leeds United were dominant (the 1970s).”

Some like Lotten Roos, 39, are more ambivalent ahead of the impending football fest, but living in the south of Sweden means it is difficult to completely avoid the hype.

“I was at dinner with a group of Danes the other day and we were talking about how the Swedes tend to lend their support to the Danes but not vice versa,” she said.

But despite the dirth of mutual affection, Roos retains an instinctive soft spot for her neighbours across the Öresund.

“I suppose if Denmark were playing a team that I was not familiar with then I would cheer them on, especially if they made it to the semi-finals or something,” she said.

While geographical proximity explains an affinity for Denmark, and televisual proximity explains an attraction to the English, some Swedes have affiliations farther from Scandinavian shores.

“I am really looking forward to it – I have loads of teams to support,” Nina Frödin, 37, told The Local.

“I have Nigeria, because my children were born there. I have Argentina, because my Dad is from there. And I have Spain, who I would like most all to win, because I have lived there and their football is the most fun.”

Mats Gustavsson, 43, describes himself as a slightly unusual football supporter in that he doesn’t really have a favourite team anywhere, although is disappointed that the Swedes will miss out on a major tournament for the first time in 12 years.

“I think we became bit spoiled over the past decade or so, but I was around in the dark days of the 1980s when we didn’t qualify for anything and that did not stop me from enjoying ’82, ’86 and ’90,” Gustavsson told The Local.

“I hope Spain do well. They played lovely football in Euro 2008 and it would be nice to have somebody new as there have only been seven winning nations.”

The Swedish-African connection is not however something that he expects to pay special attention to.

“I didn’t support England any more when Sven was in charge; but of the two the Ivory Coast’s group is the most interesting and in Drogba they have one of the best players in the world.”

Swedish football is now in a period of rebuilding under the new manager Erik Hamrén, but with star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic seemingly unlikely to return to the national team fold, the future prospects appear mixed for the Swedes ahead of Euro 2012 qualifying.

“I am feeling pretty gloomy. The Swedish players emerging are either on the bench in average European teams or they are playing for the smaller teams,” Mats Gustavsson said.

But Sune Nilsson is more upbeat and hopes that Sweden’s omission at South Africa 2010 is just a one off.

“A new generation is on its way into the national team – many of whom were in the U23 team that was so successful last year.”

Nina Frödin meanwhile expects Sweden’s absent Barcelona star to make a come back when the business of qualifying begins in the autumn.

“I am sure Zlatan will be back.”

So it seems that while Swedish flags will be sparse as the footballing world’s eyes shift to Africa for the first time, many football-lovers in the nation that still lives on the memories of USA 1994, will be found glued to their screens when football’s premier showpiece event kicks off on Friday.

“The football is what it is all about. It is that which takes centre stage at a world cup,” Nina Frödin said.

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