UEFA U21 Championship final: Sweden beat Portugal on penalties
Unfancied underdogs Sweden completed what has been a sensational 2015 UEFA Under-21 Championship for the Scandinavian nation in some style, lifting their first ever youth trophy after defeating Portugal 4-3 in a tense penalty shootout.
The Portuguese initially looked as though they would carry on where they left off after a shock 5-0 semi-final rout of Germany as, within two minutes, playmaker Bernardo Silva and wide forward Ricardo Pereira, both wingers by trade, had carved out early opportunities.
As the Iberian side dominated possession, sweeping and spraying the ball impressively around the pitch, Sweden were left chasing shadows, and pulled no surprises with their approach as they sat back and looked to break on the counter.
It was just six minutes in when skipper Sergio Oliveira struck the crossbar with a long-range free kick, with the Blue-yellow beaten if not for the woodwork intervention. Sporting Lisbon’s Joao Mario followed that chance by blazing his over the bar as, for all their silk there was little incisiveness to Portugal’s play.
Emboldened by the Hopes’ lack of potency, Sweden eventually settled into their containment tactic, looking once again like a bank of unbreachable yellow shirts.
Sweden were not without their own chances on the counter, however, as leading man Isaac Thelin saw his headed half chance in the 11th minute trickle wide, while Malmo midfielder Oscar Lewicki’s stinging shot showed boldness but could not beat Jose Sa.
Just before the break rampant right back Ricardo Esgaio, whose overlapping forays down the flank were Portugal’s most direct and threatening outlet, almost carved open the Swedes twice, though there was miraculously no-one there to meet the defender’s 41st minute lovely low ball across the box.
The second half continued much in the same vein, with few clear cut chances for either side. Sweden almost came undone early on as Portugal played them at their own game with a swift counter-attack, but good work from Ricardo Pereira was wasted as Silva saw his smart return cut out.
Targetman Thelin continued to provide an out ball for the Swedes, who remained camped out in their own half, and the approach almost paid-off in the 52nd minute, as Guidetti latched on to the striker’s knockdown, only to send his vicious volley over the bar.
Portugal’s Sergio Oliveira responded quickly and his strike went just wide before the captain was substituted for forward Tose. A William Carvalho burst from midfield also allowed substitute Iuri Medeiros to take a pot shot at goal and his attempt curled dangerously close.
Before the end of normal time, however, it was the Blue-Yellow who had the better chances, as Liverpool-owned centre half Tiago Ilori brilliantly blocked a twisting and turning Guidetti in the box, before Sa stepped up to deny the Scandinavian sharpshooter from close-range just moments later, ensuring Portugal stayed in the clash for extra-time.
The tables had certainly turned in Sweden’s favour, and they began extra-time with intent as winger Abdul Kalili fired just wide around the 94th minute mark, with a later effort also whizzing just past the post.
Spurred on by their robust backline, the Blue-Yellow took on the attacking impetus, still seeming strong and fast as Portugal evidently tired, their artistry and ideas petering out.
Substitute Joseph Baffo saw yellow for a challenge on a weaving Medeiros just outside the area, escaping penalty claims, but Patrik Carlgren was equal to Toze’s tame free kick attempt.
Neither side could find a breakthrough as the clock wound down, however, forcing both to take part in the nail-biting Russian roulette of a penalty shootout.
All of Guidetti, Thelin, Ludwig Augustinsson and Victor Lindelof dispatched their spot kicks emphatically, though Khalili’s weak effort almost handed the incentive to Portugal, but penalty specialist Esagio and sought-after Carvalho both fluffed their lines to hand the crown to Sweden.
Staunch, sturdy and spirited, the Swedes’ style may have lived up to national footballing stereotypes, but their passionate support won’t have minded one bit.