In the 1948 Olympics, players like Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm got the only gold medal a Swedish football team has ever got in football. Since then, the medals have been few, with a silver at the World Cup at home 1958 and the bronze medal in the 1994 World Cup as the biggest successes. However, no gold medals since 1948. Until now. Thanks to a bunch of young players from different backgrounds and a dedicated coach who believed in his team, Sweden now has a gold medal from the 2015 FIFA Under 21 European Championships.
Aftermath of the 1994 Bronze medal
Sweden had a hard time building on the bronze in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in USA. They failed to qualify to both the 1996 European Championships and the 1998 World Cup. In the 2000 European Championships the team only got one point in the group stage. However, in the 2002 World Cup and the 2004 European Championships the team reached play offs once again. Sweden also qualified for the 2006 World Cup, the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup under coach Lars Lagerbäck who now coaches Iceland’s football team. Under the new coach Erik Hamrén Sweden qualified to the 2012 European Championships but failed to reach the 2014 World Cup after losing the playoff qualifier against Portugal. Right now Sweden are on their way to qualify for the 2016 World Cup in a relatively easy group, with the hardest opponents being Russia and Austria. However, many people have wondered what will happen when superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic are putting his shoes on the shelf. Questions about how things are going with regrowth and development of talents are being raised and for a long time it seemed like the rest of Europe and the world is running far ahead of us, both in terms of ranking but also in producing new talents. This changed June 30, 2015.
Sweden won the gold in the 2015 U21 European Championship
Sweden’s U21 team barely made it to the European Championship. They played tight qualification games against Turkey and France that they in the end managed to win. In the tournament on beforehand they were seen as the number four team in their group that consisted of Portugal, Italy and England. However, in the first game, Sweden managed to turn 0-1 to a 2-1 victory against Italy. Something was up with this team that constantly found ways to win. However, in game two, a late goal by England forced a dramatic last round in the group phase. Sweden managed to get 1-1 against Portugal, the same team that they would later beat in the final, which was enough to reach the playoffs. In the semifinal, their nordic rivals Denmark were favourites after winning their group. However, two quick goals in the first half meant 2-0 to Sweden after 45 minutes of play. Although Denmark got their chances and also a 1-2 goal, Sweden prevailed and won by 4-1. In the final, the odds were in Portugal’s favor after beating Germany in the semifinal 5-0. What would stop them from getting the easy win against the Swedes? The answer would be this: A blue and yellow team machine with great support from the crowd and a smart coach. A dedicated team consisting of players from different background but with one goal: To play the best football of their lives.
The final was decided by penalties
The first half was dominated by Portugal. Their passing and technical skills made them have the most of the possession and momentum. However, Sweden’s defenses were intact after 45 minutes of play. In the second half, the Portuguese started to act a bit nervous, shaken by the moment. Why couldn’t they score like they did in the semifinal? Sweden got the momentum and started to move the play up field. Attackers John Guidetti and Isaac Kiese Thelin got more chances to work with. However, after 90 minutes of play, the game was a goalless tie. 15 + 15 minutes of overtime awaited. In the overtime, Sweden kept their possession from the second half and Portugal’s players looked tired. However, there were no goals scored and the game had to be decided by a penalty shootout.
John Guidetti scored on the first penalty, distinctively and high. 1-0 Sweden.
Gonçalo Paciência tied on a just as good penalty. 1-1.
Isaac Kiese Thelin made no mistake. 2-1,
Tozé tied to 2-2.
Ludwig Augustinsson gave Sweden the lead once again. 3-2.
Ricardo Esgaio missed his penalty. 3-2 Sweden after three rounds. Two rounds to go.
Abdul Khalili, who had done a good match overall, missed his penalty. He tried to trick Portugal’s goalie, but ended up getting tricked himself.
João Mário scored for 3-3 with one round to go
Victor Nilsson Lindelöf shot a solid penalty 4-3. If Portugal were to miss the next penalty, the gold would go to Sweden.
Patrik Carlgren in the Swedish goal goes right and make the save on William Carvalhos penalty! Sweden won the 2015 U21 UEFA European Championship!
What this means for Sweden
The Swedish people have to wait for a long time between the successes in football. This time, the success meant a gold medal won by a team that had faith in each other and strived towards the same direction. No matter what background the players had or what the surname on their sweaters were, they were united in a common cause and found ways to win. In a time when the social climate is getting rougher, and the countries’ football is being questioned, this tournament gave Sweden hope. Hope for a future, where no matter who you are or where you are from, as long as you are willing to contribute, you will prevail and contribute to a society filled with joy and healthy competition instead of rivalry and misery.
These are the players who played the final under coach Håkan Ericson:
Goalie: Patrik Carlgren
Defenders: Victor Lindelöf, Alexander Milošević, Filip Helander, Ludwig Augustinsson, Joseph Baffo (substituted in 2nd half)
Midfield: Oscar Lewicki, Oscar Hiljemark, Abdullah Khalili, Simon Tibbling, Robin Quaison (substituted in 2nd half)
Attackers: John Guidetti, Isaac Kiese Thelin
Sweden and Swedish football thanks you. You have given the nation and one of our biggest sports hope.