An influential performance from Emil Forsberg helped Sweden to claim a slender 2-1 advantage over rivals Denmark in the first leg of their Euro 2016 play-off at the Friends Arena on Saturday.
The hosts put an uncertain start behind them in Solna to pin Denmark back during an absorbing first half, in which Paris Saint-Germain superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the focal point for much of their good work.
But it was the comparatively unheralded Forsberg – who plies his trade with RB Leipzig in Germany’s 2.Bundesliga – who found the breakthrough with a crisp finish on the stroke of half-time.
Ibrahimovic would add his first goal against Sweden’s near neighbours, in addition to eight from as many appearances during the group stage, after 50 minutes when Forsberg won a penalty.
Erik Hamren’s team briefly threatened to dish out a thrashing but Denmark rallied and substitute Nicolai Jorgensen snatched a potentially crucial away goal.
The outside of the Friends Arena was illuminated in the colours of the French flag as a mark of respect to the victims of Friday’s terror attacks in Paris.
Following a pre-match minute’s silence, both teams looked to make positive starts and Demark duo William Kvist and Thomas Kahlenberg had attempts blocked from inside the area.
Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel made an impressive reaction save to thwart Marcus Berg from close range on the end of Oscar Lewicki’s low cross – an attack that sparked the hosts into action.
Panathinaikos striker Berg headed over from a Kim Kallstrom corner, while Nicklas Bendtner failed to punish an unconvincing punch from Andreas Isaksson at the other end.
The hosts’ centre-back Mikael Antonsson limped out of the action due to an apparent hip problem after 30 minutes to be replaced by Erik Johansson.
Berg dragged wide on the angle from eight yards, having opted against a return pass to Ibrahimovic – much to the distain of Sweden’s talisman, who fizzed a shot narrowly past the upright before Hamren’s men stylishly took a 45th-minute lead.
Denmark were left to rue Bendtner squandering a close-range chance as Durmaz’s wonderful back-heel released Mikael Lustig down the right flank and his cutback was steered clinically home by Forsberg.
Ibrahimovic almost made it two with the final act of the half, Schmeichel remarkably tipping a rasping free-kick wide after Daniel Agger was booked for crudely hacking down the PSG star on the edge of the area.
The interval did not provide sufficient time for Denmark’s heads to clear and, after Ibrahimovic headed over, Kahlenberg clumsily fouled Forsberg in the box.
Another powerful Ibrahimovic hit was enough to beat Schmeichel’s dive from 12 yards.
Denmark’s veteran coach Morten Olsen sought to check a now rampant Sweden by introducing Jorgensen and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in place of Kahlenberg and the ineffective Viktor Fischer.
Ibrahimovic had a goal correctly ruled out for offside before Denmark belatedly stirred.
A deflected cross from Lars Jacobsen looped toward goal, forcing Isaksson to tip behind, and from Christian Eriksen’s resulting corner Bendtner planted a header wide.
Sweden invited further pressure and they paid the price 10 minutes from time, with set-piece marking again proving to be a weakness as Jorgensen turned in at the far post.
John Guidetti replaced Ibrahimovic for the closing stages and an increasingly ragged Sweden unconvincingly held on to their lead ahead of the second leg in Copenhagen on Tuesday.
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