Christian Eriksen-less Denmark, Sweden fail to create in goalless pre-World Cup tune-up
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Three things we learned as Sweden and Denmark warmed up for the World Cup with a 0-0 draw at the Friends Arena.
1. A tale of two Scandinavian styles
Sweden and Denmark have plenty of shared history, but their approaches to football draw from different sources. The Swedes tend to look towards a more physical, defensive game while the Danes are an anomaly in the Nordics in their love of inventive, technical players. It's no coincidence that three of the Danish World Cup squad members played in La Liga last season, while Sweden have six players based in the UK.
That contrast in philosophies was clear at times at the Friends Arena, with Sweden opting to go long and look for scraps from aerial challenges from the kick-off, and Denmark preferring a shorter, more patient route to goal.
There were moments of success for both methods. In the first half hour Denmark regularly sucked Sweden in on one side then quickly switched play to overload the opposite flank. The Swedes grew into the game meanwhile, disrupting the Danish game with sharper tackling, and better exploiting Marcus Berg's capabilities as an out-ball.
But the limitations of the two teams were also clear. Sweden struggled to play out from the Danish high-press, with Victor Lindelof and Andreas Granqvist often taking three or four touches in a sluggish attempt to build before eventually hoofing the ball long. Denmark meanwhile lacked a cutting ball from midfield that could quickly up the pace and stop Sweden from reorganising with relative ease.
Both Nordic nations will need a stroke of luck or two to progress into the latter stages of the World Cup, but the way they will go about it will be significantly different.
2. Sweden's struggle to find Forsberg looks ominous
Emil Forsberg's creativity can play a big part in filling a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-sized hole for Sweden in Russia, but on Saturday, Janne Andersson's side struggled to find their new talisman for much of the game.
The No. 10 had to drop far too deep to get on the ball -- sometimes as far as his own half -- when he is of much more use closer to the area where a one-touch pass or moment of ingenuity makes a real difference for an otherwise predictable team. Nor was the RB Leipzig man's ability to quickly spot an opening and spearhead a counterattack properly exploited for much of the game. Andersson moving him up front for the second half alongside Isaac Thelin did little to help his cause.
On the few occasions that Forsberg did manage to get involved -- such as laying a tidy back-heel into the path of Martin Olsson for the left-back to whip in a cross on the overlap in the 26th minute, or receiving a rare ball in the final third to brilliantly dribble and tee up Thelin just before the final whistle -- Sweden's level of quality moved up a gear.
If the Swedes are to have any hope of getting out of a tough group where Germany and Mexico are favourites they will need to make the Bundesliga assist machine feel happy by playing to his strengths.
3. Denmark need someone to take the burden off Eriksen's shoulders
The Danes have a similar situation to their neighbours in that one player is a cut above the rest, and even several of the Sweden players admitted before kick-off that they think Christian Eriksen is the best footballer in the Nordics.
The Spurs man's knack for scoring when it really counts was the difference for the Danes in qualifying (ask the Irish for evidence of that), and that will no doubt be the case much of the time in Russia. That being said, others will have to step up and help him out on occasion for Denmark to advance out of Group C.
There were some tentative signs that the supporting cast can take a share of the attacking burden off his shoulders. At the Friends Arena, Pione Sisto looked the best candidate to help Eriksen's cause. The Celta Vigo winger can produce moments of real magic when he's in the right mood, and there were flashes of that ability against Sweden.
Jinking away from Emil Krafth on the half-hour mark, Sisto cut inside in trademark style and tested Robin Olsen with a shot to win a corner, while minutes later his whipped ball from the left flank deserved to be better exploited by Thomas Delaney. A beautifully weighted pass on the outside of the boot that allowed Nicolai Jorgensen to slip behind the Sweden back line just before half-time was another example of the Celta man's technical quality.
When Sisto was taken off for the second half, Denmark's output dropped a level, as good a sign as any that he can be a positive influence for Age Hareide's team. Eriksen would no doubt welcome as much later this month.
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter: @LeeRoden89.