European Championship History: Sweden

As our build-up towards this summer's European Championships begins, Walter Townsend looks at Sweden’s history in the tournament...
Strangely Sweden have made little impression on the European Championship, qualifying for the tournament only three times, all in recent history. Conversely, in the World Cup they can boast four semi final appearances, finishing as runners-up in 1958, just two years before the first ever European Championship.

Sweden’s best performance at the European Championship, by contrast, is a solitary semi final appearance when hosting the tournament in 1992.   

It took Sweden seven attempts to qualify for the European Championship, although admittedly the four-team format of the tournament hardly helped their cause. They came close in 1964, when they fell in the quarter finals to defending champions the Soviet Union. In 1984 and 1988, when a more common group format decided participation, Sweden finished second in their group to Romania and Italy respectively.

It took until 1992 for Sweden to finally make it into the tournament when it was hosted in the country. Despite being drawn with the more favoured France and England it was the Nordic pair of Denmark and Sweden who qualified from the group.

In the opening game of the group they held France to a draw. Jan Eriksson put Sweden in the lead halfway through the first half, but Jean Pierre Papin equalised for the French in the second half to claim a share of the spoils.  

Sweden recorded a 1-0 win against Denmark in the second match thanks to a goal on 58 minutes from Thomas Brolin. In the final match, they beat Graham Taylor’s England coming from behind after David Platt had opened the scoring for the English. Supported by a partisan home crowd, Sweden fought back firstly through Eriksson and then thanks to a late winner from Thomas Brolin, to set up a semi final clash with Germany.

Sweden found themselves 0-2 down thanks to German strikes from Haessler and Riedle, but they fought back bravely and a Tomas Brolin penalty gave them hope. A late strike from Riedle in the 88th minute was immediately cancelled out by Kennet Andersson, but the Swedish couldn't find another goal to send the tie into extra-time and Germany were through to the final.

Sweden missed out on Euro 96 despite an excellent World Cup 1994 spearheaded by a young Henryk Larsson when they reached the semi finals. They were back for Euro 2000 and were drawn into Group B with Belgium, Turkey and Italy. Several of the older players from the Golden Team of 1994 such as Thomas Ravelli and Thomas Brolin had retired, but a new generation of Swedish talent such as Freddy Ljungberg were ready to take their place.  

It was to prove to be a disappointing tournament as they failed to make it through the group stage despite the relatively tame draw.  They kicked off the tournament in the opening match against Belgium in Brussels, but were unable to impose themselves on the game. Bart Goor and former Manchester City striker Emile Mpenza put the home side in the lead. Former Celtic centre back Johan Mjallby pulled one back, but it wasn’t enough.

A 0-0 draw against Turkey followed and needing a win in their final game against Italy they failed to come up with the required result. Luigi di Bagio scored first for Italy and despite levelling through Larsson, as they pushed forward for the winner, Italy exploited the space and del Piero struck for the Italians late on to send Sweden home.

Four years later and Sweden had their revenge on Italy at Euro 2004, when they helped to ensure that Italy didn’t qualify. Placed into a group with rivals Denmark, plus Bulgaria and Italy, it was widely expected that Sweden would be competing for second spot with their near neighbours, behind the Italians.

However, after a 5-0 win in the opening match against Bulgaria thanks to goals from Ljungberg, Ibrahimovic, Allback and a brace from Larsson, Sweden stamped their authority on the group. They followed that up with a 1-1 draw against Italy, Ibrahimovic cancelling out a goal from Cassano to put themselves on four points, equal with Denmark and two clear of Italy, who had still to play Bulgaria, who were already out by that stage.

Sweden and Denmark played out a 2-2 draw and with Italy beating Bulgaria, all three top teams were locked on five points. The head-to-head games had all finished as draws, so it came down to goals scored in the matches against each other. With Sweden and Denmark both scoring two against each other they held the advantage over the Italians, who had scored only one in their two games against the Nordic pair. Despite Italian mutterings of a Nordic conspiracy against them, Sweden eased through as group leaders to set up a clash against Holland.

A 0-0 draw in the quarter finals ensued, although Sweden enjoyed the majority of the chances created over the 120 minutes.  Despite Holland’s well documented struggles from the penalty spot they managed to win through. Both sides missed one in the first five, Cocu missing for Holland and Ibrahimovic surprisingly for Sweden. It went to sudden death where Robben held his nerve but Aston Villa defender Mellberg missed and Sweden went home.

Sweden undoubtedly enjoy a far stronger record at the World Cup; if they could take some of their World Cup form over to the European Championship they could yet be a force to be reckoned with.

Walter Townsend