Hosts Sweden came from the shock of conceding an early goal to claim a comfortable 5-1 win in the opening European Under-21 Championship fixture, thanks to a hat-trick from Marcus Berg
After a slow start to the game it was Sweden who took control, but not before Belarus had given them a shock. The less fancied East Europeans had retained possession of the ball well enough during the first half-an-hour of play, indeed seeing more of the ball in the opening stages than the Swedes, who struggled to get into their rhythm.
Belarus were rewarded for a confident start with almost the first meaningful shot on target after just over half-an-hour. Leonid Kovel picked up the ball on the left and sent an intelligent ball into Sergei Kryvets, who had drifted into space on the right. He teed the ball back to Sergei Kisylak, who let fly with a venomous shot from all of 30 metres, sending the ball fizzing past the helpless Johan Dahlin in the Swedish goal.
The shock of concession seemed to galvanise the Swedes, and they should have equalised within a minute when Ola Toivonen missed a great chance at the far post after a good ball from Marcus Berg.
Sweden were level just a minute later, but had good fortune to thank for their equaliser. A speculative Rasmus Elm shot from even further out than Kisylak's goal bounced off the back of Martynovich totally wrong-footing Belarus keeper Chesnovsky to make it 1-1.
Three minutes later and Sweden had the lead thanks to a terrific run from Marcus Berg. The FC Groningen forward exchanged passes with Emir Bajrami before dribbling past two Belarus challenges in the box and poking the ball home.
And just before half-time Sweden extended their advantage when Berg once again found the back of the net for 3-1. A positive run through the middle by Toivonen drew the Belarus defence towards the ball, before deftly giving possession to Berg. With time and space after Verkovtsov had drifted off him, Berg scored his second of the game with another excellent finish.
Belarus made changes just after the interval, but didn't do a great deal to alter the flow of the game with Sweden continuing to press forward in the second half.
Ola Toivonen was unluckily denied a fourth for Sweden when he had the ball in the back of the net just before the hour mark with replays showing no offside or evident foul.
The final quarter of the game marked a slight renaissance for Belarus with Leonid Kovel having a shot on 70 minutes. The Saturn Moscow midfielder was the best Belarus performer, and managed to test Dahlin with a skimming shot which the Swedish keeper held on to comfortably. A minute later and he set up Volodko for a shot which again was saved by Dahlin. Kovel was once again in the action when a long pass over the top of the Swedish defence nearly played him in. The pass just evaded Kovel's outstretched toe, and was cut out by Dahlin.
The Belarus improvement drew an immediate response from Sweden, who made it 4-1 on 81 minutes. An Elm ball over the top sent away Berg, who finished with aplomb - justfying all the pre-tournament hype with a hat-trick.
A wonderfully put together move on 88 minutes resulted in a Harbuzi cross onto the head of Berg, who was unlucky to see the effort parried behind for a corner. Sweden though weren't to be denied a fifth, as from the corner, Gustav Svensson thrashed home from deep after Belarus had initially cleared their lines, sealing a fine victory.
Belarus will be dissapointed with their defending, conceding five, and a lack of concentration needs to be urgently addressed by their coaching staff. Sweden grabbed three in the space of ten first half minutes ,and another two at the end of the game within seven minutes of each other.
After such a good start to the European Under-21 Championship tournament, the hosts, Sweden, will be confident of building on the momentum this fine performance has generated. The home fans will be looking to see how they get on against Italy on Friday.
Walter Townsend, Goal.com