The Sweden coach Tommy Soderberg exploded in anger yesterday as Italian journalists continued to press him on the possibility of his team colluding with Denmark to come to a 2-2 draw, ensuring the advancement of both Scandinavian teams and the elimination of the Azzurri.
"We say it again, we will not make a deal with Denmark," Soderberg exclaimed furiously during a press scrum at the team's hotel, smacking the table with his hand, then banging his closed fist against his chest. "It's about passion and dignity. Football is not about results. It's about doing a good game and being proud of your performance afterward."
Speculation of a possible deal between the two Scandinavian countries burgeoned immediately following Sweden's late 1-1 comeback draw with Italy on Friday night.
The result vaulted Sweden to the top of the Group C standings with four points. Denmark also have four points, but sit second behind the Swedes based on goal differential.
Italy are currently lying third with two points and are now in a must-win situation against Bulgaria in its final group phase game. But even a victory will not necessarily guarantee the Italians a place in the round of eight.
Sweden and Denmark can lock up their place in the quarter-finals if they draw 2-2, or higher. That would ensure both Nordic countries would edge out Italy on goal differential within the three-team mini-group - excluding loser Bulgaria - despite any margin of victory the Azzurri might attain over Bulgaria in their final group phase match.
Since it became apparent that a 2-2 draw would suit both Sweden and Denmark many punters have plunged on that possibility. A 2-2 draw would normally have odds of around 14-1, but the odds for tomorrow's game ending in such a scoreline have been reduced to 5-1 after a number of four-figure bets were placed on 2-2. Bookmakers have also cut the odds of a drawn match from the usual 2-1 mark down to evens.
Before their infuriating draw with Sweden, Italy suffered an embarrassing 0-0 tie with Denmark.
At the World Cup two years ago, Italy blamed its early second-round exit on Ecuadorean referee Byron Moreno.
"A 2-2 draw would really seem like a fix," Italian striker Alessandro Del Piero said. "They've already tormented us with [Francesco] Totti's gesture [Totti received a three-match ban for spitting at an opponent, Christian Poulsen, during the Italy v Denmark match]. They spoke about a lack of sportsmanship. Now it will be curious to see how much [sportsmanship] they have."
Soderberg insisted no country would want to qualify by dishonest means.
"I think it's the same in every country," he declared as the Italian press looked at him blankly. "I think it's the same in Sweden, Bulgaria, Denmark and Italy."
The Swedes said they felt the Danes were the favourites in the group and in Tuesday night's all-Scandinavian derby.
"They are very impressive," said Swedish scout Benny Lennartsson. "They are extremely difficult, dangerous and difficult opposition.
"They are the favourites in our opinion."Reuse content