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Sweden, Ukraine take first leg wins in Euro 2016 playoffs

Sweden, Ukraine take first leg wins in Euro 2016 playoffs

LONDON: European football paid tribute to the victims of attacks in Euro 2016 hosts France during Saturday’s qualifying play-offs which saw Sweden edge Denmark 2-1 and Ukraine beat Slovenia 2-0 in first leg ties.

A minute’s silence was observed before Saturday’s games for victims of the Paris attacks on Friday, one of which was outside the Stade de France where world champions Germany were playing a friendly against France.

In Solna, Paris St Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his ninth goal in as many qualifiers as Sweden took a slight advantage over 1992 champions Denmark but losing coach Morten Olsen believes his side can overturn the deficit in the return match.

Emil Forsberg netted the opener for the hosts and also won a 50th-minute penalty that Ibrahimovic converted before Nicolai Jorgensen snatched a late goal to leave the tie delicately balanced going into Tuesday’s game in Copenhagen.

“You have to be confident,” Olsen told a news conference. “I think we have the players who can make the difference, it will be a different game.”

The result means a 1-0 win in Copenhagen would see the Danes through but Ibrahimovic downplayed the significance of the Danish goal.

“We won the game, that was the most important,” he said.

A tight, tense affair for much of the first 45 minutes, the game exploded into life on the stroke of halftime when winger Forsberg swept Mikael Lustig’s pass beyond Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The crowd had barely taken their seats at the start of the second period when Forsberg was upended by Thomas Kahlenberg after a surging run into the box the 34-year-old Ibrahimovic thundered home the resulting spot kick for his first goal against the Danes in seven matches.

But with 10 minutes left, substitute Jorgensen latched onto a Yussuf Poulsen flick-on from an Eriksen corner to boost Denmark’s hopes of making the finals in France next summer.

Earlier Ukraine, who have never won a playoff for a major tournament finals in five previous attempts, took a firm grip on their tie against Slovenia as Andrei Yarmolenko and Yevhen Seleznyov scored in either half at the packed 65,000-seat Lviv Arena.

Ukraine dominated in front of a passionate home crowd as Slovenia failed to register a single shot on target, their narrow formation struggling to cope with Ukraine star wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko.

Yarmolenko tormented Slovenia on the right flank, and got his reward with the opening goal in the 22nd minute, collecting the ball inside the box and dummying away from two defenders before shooting past goalkeeper Samir Hamdanovic.

Yarmolenko also played a part in the second goal in the 54th, striker Seleznyov converting his cross to supply the finishing touch to a swift counter-attack.

Seleznyov could have added a third goal 15 minutes later when he scuffed his shot when well-placed but Ukraine will still be in a strong position in Tuesday’s second leg to book their ticket to the finals in France.

“We played well and the result we’ve achieved is pretty pleasing but it’s only half-time in the tie,” Ukraine’s manager Mikhail Fomenko said.

“I expect a very tough match at Maribor as Slovenia are a strong and well-organised team and now have nothing to lose. Today we played well in defence but on Tuesday we will need to perform even better to neutralise Slovenia’s dangerous attack.”

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2015

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