Sweden 0-0 Portugal (aet, Sweden win 4-3 on pens)
Goalkeeper Patrik Carlgren was the hero for Sweden, saving twice in the shoot-out to earn his country a first European Under-21 title.
Sweden are the new Under-21 champions of Europe after defeating Portugal on penalties at the Eden Stadium in Prague. After a goalless 120 minutes, spot kicks were required to separate the sides, Sweden prevailing in front of their bank of blue-and-yellow-clad fans thanks to two fine stops from Patrik Carlgren.
Portugal might have known. Rewind almost three months to the day and they suffered their most recent defeat, 1-0 against the Czech Republic, at this same stadium. They struck the crossbar three times that night, so it was ominous for them when Sérgio Oliveira’s 20-metre free-kick cannoned off that same piece of woodwork seven minutes in.
Ricardo had already rustled the side netting by then, but Sweden are no strangers to soaking up early pressure and were soon doing what they do best. Even Håkan Ericson had conceded on Monday that “we sometimes have a game plan to let the opposition have the ball”, so the fact they had just 38% of first-half possession would have given him little cause for alarm. They also threatened themselves, though Isaac Kiese Thelin’s header and Simon Tibbling’s shot were both comfortable enough for José Sá.
Ericson replaced Felip Helander with Joseph Baffo at the break due to a knee injury, but his central pairing at the other end combined as well as ever, Kiese Thelin’s cute knockdown teeing up John Guidetti for an adroit first-time effort which whistled over. Though Rui Jorge was soon forced into a substitution of his own, captain Sérgio Oliveira the man to go off, replacement Tozé was swift to test Carlgren from range.
The Swedes’ No6, Oscar Lewicki, has been described as the team’s “cleaning woman” (stådgumma), and he barely left a blemish even against a direct opponent as authoritative as William. It was Portugal’s own midfield enforcer, however, who briefly asserted himself soon after the hour, using his strength to free another substitute, Iuri Medeiros, down the right, only for the No11 to curl his shot narrowly wide.
And then, we thought, came ‘Sweden Time’. Four of the Blågult’s seven tournament goals had come in the 83rd minute or later; last-gasp heroics twice saved them en route to the Czech Republic. It so nearly happened again, Guidetti thwarted by Sá, but this time they were to leave it even later than normal.
Any suggestion the extra 30 minutes would prove a step too far were soon dispatched, Abdullah Khalili bending one attempt agonisingly wide as Sweden started to assume the ascendancy. It should scarcely have been a surprise considering Ericson had promised his players could “run and run and run, and run again”.
They can walk, too, that high-pressure stroll from centre circle to penalty spot providing little difficulty. Even with a first European crown on the line, Carlgren and his team-mates defied the odds one more time to the undiluted joy of the supporters who had urged them noisily on behind that same goal. How appropriate it was that Swedish Football Association (SvFF) president Karl-Erik Nilsson’s pre-tournament programme notes had been titled ‘Sweden performing under pressure’.