ERIC PERSSON / AIPS** in OLOMOUC: High morale, courage and team spirit turned Sweden into one of semi-finalists.
Before the Swedish team arrived in Czech Republic they had been ranked by many observers as the weakest team in the tournament but the players and coaches ignored what the so-called experts thought.
The first game in the ‘Group of Death’, against Italy, started in a nightmare style when central defender Alexander Milosevic earned a red card and the Italians scored from the subsequent.
But Sweden got up to turned the match around in the second half. John Guidetti equalised at 1–1 and Isaac Kiese Thelin converted the penalty for a surprising victory in the 86th minute.
The second game, against England, saw Sweden as underdogs again. This time they suffered a costly defeat, despite a good performance, after English substitute Jesse Lingaard scored the only goal in the 85th minute.
That result meant Sweden had to take at least one point in the last match against Portugal to have any hope. Head coach Hakan Ericson surprisingly started with Branimir Hrgota instead of Simon Tibbling and dared to recall the regular centre back Filip Helander instead of Joseph Baffo.
In the 52nd minute, however, Ericson realised that Tibbling was needed on the pitch and the 20-year-old midfielder from Dutch side FC Groningen replaced Hrgota.
That was a successful change because, after Portugal went ahead in the 82nd minute Sweden needed a goal. Thus, in the 89th minute, Tibbling became the hero of the game by shooting the dramatic equaliser for a 1–1 draw.
Hence Sweden reached the semi-final as the second-best team in the group. Against all odds.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and is co-operating with UEFA in running a Young Reporters course at UEFA U21 EURO in the Czech Republic. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
# # # # # # # # # # # # # # #