The Swedish team are arguably not the most attractive football team to watch in the current UEFA European Under-21 tournament but what they lack in overall flair is counter-balanced by an unwavering team spirit and a determination to play for the full 90 minutes of a game. In Wednesday evening’s final Group B match against Portugal, a late goal earned the team a 1-1 draw and an unlikely qualification for the semi-finals, although a bizarre three minutes of added time at the end of the game in which the Portuguese players passed the ball among themselves, did help to ensure the progress of both teams to the knockout phase.
Sweden had begun the tournament by losing Alexander Milosevic to a first half dismissal and then trailing Italy 1-0 at half-time in that same game. For whatever reasons, the Italians then appeared to think that victory was assured and failed to apply any worthwhile pressure during a second period in which the Swedes gradually assumed control. John Guidetti claimed a deserved equaliser and then Kiese Thelin converted a late penalty to earn a surprise victory against one of the more favoured teams.
A more dogged defensive display was produced in the Swedes’ next contest against England when securing a point would be deemed a good result against a team beaten 1-0 by Portugal in their opening game. Sweden had repeatedly thwarted England until a late goalkeeping error allowed Jesse Lingard to volley home to deny the Swedish team their point.
Before Wednesday evening’s final Group B games began, Sweden were aware that a point or a victory against Portugal may be sufficient to realise their aim of securing a semi-final berth, but much depended on the outcome of the Italy versus England game being played simultaneously. UEFA had determined that head-to-head results rather goal difference was to be the deciding issue in the event of equal points.
When a much improved Italian team assumed a 2-0 first half lead against a disappointing England outfit, the rules of the tournament dictated that both Portugal and Sweden would qualify if a draw ensued and the second half of that match appeared to be played as if both teams had accepted that scenario as the Swedes produced another determined defensive display.
However, a mistake in defence allowed Goncalo Pacienta to score for Portugal with less than 10 minutes remaining with Italy set to qualify for the semi-finals alongside Portugal. Yet Sweden refused to accept defeat by increased their efforts in attack and were rewarded just one minute from the end of normal time when a deflected shot from Simon Tibbling entered the Portuguese net for the first time in this tournament.
It had not been a particularly enterprising performance by Sweden but as per their playoff game against France when they earned qualification for this tournament via a goal two minutes from time, the squad appears eager to defy the critics and a Scandinavian derby against Denmark in the semi-finals now awaits, with Portugal due to face the Germans in the other tie.