It’s the way of the world, really, isn’t it? I drag myself out of bed to report that this weekend’s European Championship qualifiers are the least appealing round of international football matches that I’ve ever seen, and then Denmark and Sweden throw up a match so bizarre that it must rank as a contender for the Match Of The Season award, even though they didn’t even get to finish it.
For those of you that aren’t aware of what happened, here’s a brief summary: Denmark and Sweden were drawing 3-3 in Copenhagen last night (a storming game, in which Denmark had come from three goals down), when Denmark’s Christian Paulsen inexplicably punched Sweden’s Markus Rosenberg in the stomach. The referee, one Herbert Fandel, missed the incident, but it was spotted by the linesman, who brought it to his attention. Paulsen was sent off, and Sweden were awarded a penalty. So far, so straightforward. At this point, however, things took a turn for the strange. A one Danish fan got on the pitch and made a beeline for the referee, and only the intervention of a couple of Danish players prevented him from getting lamped. The referee then decided, with the Swedish players waiting to take their last minute penalty, to abandon the match. The rumour then started to circulate that he had taken it upon himself to award a 3-0 win to Sweden, whose players came back out onto the pitch, ostensibly to thank their supporters, but in a manner which suggested that they might have been celebrating an extremely unlikely victory. The scoreboard then flashed up that Sweden had been awarded the match. You can see it all unfolding here.
Sometimes you have to feel a little bit sorry for the football authorities, and this seems to be one such occasion. If the result is allowed to stand, then Denmark will have gotten away with something extraordinary – the Swedes would never know if they had scored the penalty or not, and could rightfully feel cheated. There would also be a dangerous precedent set if they do uphold the result. Is your team struggling and decisions aren’t going your way? Why not run onto the pitch and get the match abandoned? The flip-side to this is the question of whether Denmark – the players and supporters – should be punished on account of the behaviour of one lunatic. The Danish players had done exceptionally well to come back from three down at home, and I’ve long been surprised that there aren’t more incidents like this at matches. The compromise options – to make the players play the injury time, starting with the penalty kick – is also unsatisfactory. What if Sweden miss the penalty? What if they miss it and the Denmark run up the other end and score? The situation is so unique that this strikes me as being a no-win situation for UEFA.
I suspect that the match will be awarded to Sweden, which is a little harsh on Denmark, though you have to take into account that the Danes are hardly in a strong bargaining position at the moment. There are numerous ironies surrounding these events – when a 2-2 draw was required for both of these countries to qualify from their group at Euro 2004 (and knock Italy out in the process), they duly obliged and eyebrows across the continent were raised. Also, at the end of a season that has been marred by incidents of crowd trouble in more than one country, it appears strange that this incident should occur at a Denmark match, when the Danish supporters are universally recognised as a completely supine bunch, who model their behaviour on the Tartan Army. A heavy punishment for Denmark would be harsh, considering that there are clubs and countries that have had ongoing problems for years and years (England and Italy, for example) but have never received any significant sanctions. To come down heavily on them would reek of there being one rule for the powerful nations, and another for the rest.
Talking of double standards, I was surprised that the referee decided to abandon the match. There have been several incidents down the years in which spectators have got onto the pitch with the intention of attacking players, but I’ve never seen a match abandoned because of it. We’re hardly talking about a mass pitch invasion, here. The only conclusion that I can come to is that the referee is considerably more concerned with his own safety than he would have been with that of any of the players. Mr Fandel himself, in abandoning the match and allowing it to be broadcast that the match had been awarded to Sweden, should probably not be allowed to referee at this level again. The fact that this was broadcast to the crowd was a ridiculous situation – I can think of many grounds where that would have been more than enough to start a full-blown riot.
UEFA will launch their enquiry this week. One would hope that they manage to complete this quickly, because the decision that they make will have ramifications for Spain and Northern Ireland as well as for the Danes and the Swedes. As I said above, there are no easy resolutions to the situation that has arisen here. If it was down to me, the only way to be fair would be to completely replay the match behind closed doors, without Christian Poulson and with a different referee, and scratch the chaotic scenes from last night from the history books altogether. The Danish press might not agree with me on this, but worse things happen at sea, you know.