Euro U-21 Review: Sweden

The hosts Sweden enjoyed an excellent tournament playing some thrilling football, before eventually falling at the semi-final stage. Walter Townsend assesses the Swedish impact on the tournament, and whether this is the start of a new golden generation…

A resounding success

It didn’t always seem as positive for Sweden, who started their tournament in the worst possible fashion, by conceding the opening goal to a long-range effort from Belarus, after looking disjointed and unfamiliar to each other in the opening stages of the first group match.

This was the inevitable outcome of attempting to integrate two of the senior players back into the Under-21 squad, something that many other teams decided against.  Marcus Berg and Rasmus Elm had both become mainstays of the senior team but were still eligible to represent the Under-21 team, so the Swedish management decided to call them up. 

In the end, despite the floundering start, the decision was handsomely rewarded, even in the first half of that game.  A long-range strike from Elm got the Swedes back level crucially within moments of falling behind, and Berg was on the score sheet twice before the interval.  One can only wonder what might have been if Belarus had held onto the lead into the interval and the effect that would have had on the Swedes.

Potentially the best element of the tournament for the Swedes was the emergence of Berg and Toivonen as a credible striking partnership.  Sweden have long enjoyed strong attackers, but have seldom ever looked like finding the right combination up-front.  Given the way the Dutch-based pair linked up the future looks very promising for Sweden in this regard, especially given their willingness to link together to form a worthwhile striking duo rather than becoming two isolated forwards.

Durability in the face of adversity

One pleasing aspect of the tournament, and another that bodes well for the future, which is what this competition is all about, is the Swedish resilience and ability to come from behind.  They bounced back from the concession of the first goal against Belarus and England and also after falling two behind to Italy become more influential as the match progressed.  This collective steadfastness, even when conceding the first goal, is an excellent habit, and if this attitude can be imported into the senior team by drafting some of the members of this side into it, then this tournament will have been a resounding success.

Furthermore the Swedish refusal to be dragged into a fight against Serbia would have been especially pleasing for the management.  The Serbs attempted to provoke the Swedes on numerous occasions singling out Marcus Berg for some particularly rough treatment, which generally none of the Swedish team reacted to. 

Areas of criticism

Overall the Swedish tournament is one that can be looked back on with much pleasure, but there were still one or two areas that could have been improved on.  The first was their inability to break down a ten-man Italy, despite enjoying the numerical superiority in the game.  The Italians played arguably their best game of the tournament against Sweden making light of Balotelli’s absence, but if Sweden had just been able to get the ball wider quicker they may have actually been able to take something from the match.

Much like Finland, Sweden also struggled to defend set pieces with several opposition goals coming via this route.  If this could have been rectified during the course of the tournament, Sweden may have been even more successful.

Finally their first half capitulation to England was also disappointing and possibly a by-product of the changes forced on the Swedish management team as a result of suspensions, which obliged Sweden to make two alterations to a side that had become very settled. 

Players for the future:

Rasmus Elm and Marcus Berg both showed why they have been fast-tracked into the senior team with outstanding performances at the tournament, but there were also several other players who have played themselves into greater prominence.

Right-back Mikael Lustig attracted much praise for his performances both in defence and getting forward, especially in the opening two games of the tournament.  The Rosenborg player has been linked with a move to West Ham, and they could well be facing competition for his signature.

IFK Goteborg’s Gustav Svensson may not have been the most eye-catching Swedish player in the tournament, but his role in the team's success should not be underestimated.  His thoughtful contribution to the midfield was key to getting the ball to more attack-minded players, and he also helped screen the defence. 

Emir Bajrami also looked a decent prospect for the future with all the necessary attributes to become a really exciting winger down the left.  The Elfsborg player needs to concentrate on his delivery and final ball into the box, but has an abundance of pace and the requisite trick to outfox a defender. 

Stick or Twist?

With Sweden floundering in qualification for the World Cup they will need to ensure they win their remaining three matches, and hope some other results go their way.  With this outstanding performance by the junior team the senior Swedish management are put in a tricky position.  Should they dare to go with some of the juniors to replace some of the under-performing seniors or keep faith with the senior team and trust they can drag Sweden into the play-offs. 

Currently four points off second, a number of this Under-21 side have earned the chance of full international recognition, and Sweden may be handsomely rewarded with a place in South Africa next summer if they dare to trust their juniors. 

Walter Townsend,