By Philip O’Connor
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A stunning double from captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Sweden a 2-2 draw away to Denmark as they qualified for Euro 2016 on Tuesday by winning 4-3 on aggregate against their Scandinavian rivals.
Sweden’s captain has carried his side virtually single-handedly to the finals next year in France, scoring eight times in eight qualifiers and then netting three of his side’s four goals as they sealed the deal in Denmark.
The final whistle sparked scenes of wild jubilation among the gold-and-blue clad players and fans as the squad rushed to celebrate with their supporters.
“They (the Danes) were going to send me into retirement, but I sent their whole country into retirement!” a jubilant Ibrahimovic told Swedish broadcaster Kanal 5 as he was engulfed by his team mates on live television.
He had silenced the home fans in the 19th minute when he ghosted out to meet Kim Kallstrom’s corner, twisting athletically to sweep the ball past flat-footed goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Then he punished the Danes for their failure to create chances with a beautiful curling free kick in the 76th minute to send the Swedes closer to a place in France next year.
Late goals by Yussuf Poulsen and Jannik Vestergaard provided some comfort for the home fans, but once again they struggled to create and convert chances.
With Denmark coach Morten Olsen making four changes from the team that started Saturday’s 2-1 defeat in Stockholm, the Danes looked much more muscular in midfield, but the final ball was often poor.
Striker Nicklas Bendtner had a game to forget in his home town, and was widely booed when he was replaced by Morten Rasmussen on the hour.
Denmark had overrun the Swedes in the opening exchanges and should have broken the deadlock in the eighth minute, but Poulsen, Daniel Agger and Thomas Delaney all failed to find the net in quick succession.
Coach Morten Olsen all but resigned at the media conference after the game, saying: “Obviously it hurts me to finish in this way after 35 years with the national team.”
Asked exactly when he would leave the post, he told reporters that it would be up to his wife to decide.
For Sweden coach Erik Hamren it was a different story, and he praised his captain effusively.
“I know he’s not one of the family, but I love him,” Hamren told reporters.
Ibrahimovic gave his all, eschewing his usual array of flicks and tricks in favour of hard defensive work, inspiring his side to cover every blade of grass on the Parken pitch.
It was an effort that paid off handsomely, thanks to the striker’s double, and the Swedish fans ended their evening by singing the national anthem on a drizzly Danish night, no doubt dreaming of the warmer climes of France next year.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; editing by Steve Tongue)