PABLO MARTINEZ / AIPS* in PRAGUE: Sweden may not have been among the initial favourites at UEFA U21 Euro after being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ but, as coach Hakän Ericson said, they are here now.
Tonight Sweden and Portugal will take to the pitch of the stadium which is usually home to Slavia Prague knowing that Germany, Denmark, Italy, England, France and Spain are all among only the teams who have been left behind.
This will be the second final for both teams but victory would be the first for either. Italy do not point the road to ruin, as happened in 1992 when they beat Sweden (2-0 and 1-0) and then, two years later, Portugal (1-0).
This time, there will be two ways of watching football and reach glory.
On the one hand is the technical Portuguese style led by a magician called Bernardo Silva with ball possession as an offensive and defensive weapon; on the other the Swedish option that is defence to the death, using counter-attacks and expressing every minute the Scandinavian passion typified by small, blond, Stockholm-born 20-year-old Simon Tibbling, who is now a national hero.
This time, keeping it tight is not an option as it was the last match between both teams in the last game of Group B which saw Sweden satch a 1-1 draw with a last-minute goal from Tibbling.
This time, the Swedish national team have received intense mental preparation and their fans will be their 12th, 13th and 14th players.
Portugal could be favourites because they are on a winning run of 14 official games with defeat. But these statistics will be irrelevant when the match begins. Glory or failure, everything or nothing, yellow or red, Sweden or Portugal, Bernardo Silva or Simon Tibbling . . . it’s the final countdown.
** 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
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