Sweden did it. They fulfilled their Cinderella-like summer by winning the Under-21 European Championship in the Czech Republic after winning the final against Portugal on penalties. Coming in as a huge underdog in pretty much every game, the Swedes showed that being a good team is better than having superstar players.
The first half of the game was not much to look at. Neither team got any real scoring opportunities, except for a Portuguese free-kick that hit the crossbar, and looked more concerned about not many any defensive mistakes. Portugal owned a lot of the ball in the opening 45 minutes and Sweden’s passing game wasn’t really up to par when they did end up with it in the attacking third of the pitch.
Portugal had a couple of shots, but Sweden did a great job at keeping the Portuguese outside the penalty area and forced them to shoot from long range. When Sweden went on the attack and tried to establish some pressure against Jose Sa in the Portuguese net, it was through John Guidetti and Isaac Kiese Thelin.
In the second half, things opened up a bit more and Sweden saw more of the ball. Portugal kept shooting from the outside and had their best opportunities from set pieces. Portugal had nine corners, and Goncalo Paciencia had a couple of duels in the air with Sweden’s goalkeeper Patrik Carlgren.
Sweden had a couple of good opportunities when they were able to work the ball into the Portuguese penalty area, and Jose Sa made a couple of key saves. Guidetti had a great chance to break the deadlock, but Sa showed time after time why he’s the best goalie of the tournament.
The closer we came to the final whistle, the more calculated the teams became in choosing when to try and go forward. After 90 minutes, it was still scoreless which meant extra time.
Despite two 15 minutes halves in extra time, there still wasn’t a winner. Neither team was close to scoring during the extra time, but Sweden took over more and more of the game and was the team pushing forward the most.
Penalties were needed in order to decide who would be the lucky ones to lift the trophy. Guidetti scored on the opening penalty kick with a perfect shot in the top corner of the net that was impossible for Sa to save. Paciencia tied it up for Portugal before Thelin scored for Sweden. Toze scored for Portugal after smashing the ball off the crossbar and behind the goalline.
Ludwig Augustinsson scored to make it 3-2, and then Carlgren stepped up and saved Ricardo Esgaio’s shot. Abdulrahman Khalili then stepped up for Sweden, but his poor shot was easily saved by Sa.
Joao Mario tied it up 3-3, before Victor Nilsson-Lindelof scored to give Sweden the 4-3 advantage. William Carvalho stepped up to take Portugal’s fifth penalty. Carlgren dove the right way and saved the penalty to give Sweden its first ever U-21 championship.
— UEFA Under-21 (@UEFAUnder21) June 30, 2015
It’s been a magical tournament for coach Hakan Ericsson and his team. The Swedes had a never say die attitude that showed itself time after time. They won the opening game against Italy 2-1, despite getting a man sent off and falling behind 1-0 in the first half. They pushed England for almost the whole game, and the only reason they lost was because of a freak shot.
When they fell behind with less than 10 minutes to go in the last group stage game against Portugal, they appeared on their way out. But instead of hanging their heads and giving up, they pushed up and scored in the final minute.
Guidetti had a great tournament and he will have a slew of clubs chasing after him as he’s a free agent starting July 1.
Patrik Carlgren plays for AIK Solna in Sweden, and with his two saves he was the big hero of the night, but there’s no doubt that this was a team effort. When they beat France in the qualification playoffs, the hope was lit in Sweden that this team could do something magical, and boy did they ever.
Congrats to the Swedish players, for making history and a whole nation extremely proud.