To most football fans, John Guidetti would have been the only recognisable player on the Sweden squad for this tournament. Going into this highly-anticipated derby against their neighbours Denmark, Sweden were yet again expected to lose. After all, in the group stage, Denmark had picked up the highest number of points than any other team across both groups. Sweden had displayed tremendous fighting spirit and needed a late equaliser from Simon Tibbling against Portugal that qualified them for the semi-finals ahead of the Italians.
In this match, Sweden were the better team in the 1st half as Denmark’s fluid attacking threat was neutralised. Sweden went into the break with a 2-goal lead. Denmark came back in the 2nd half and had Sweden playing a deep defensive line for much of the half. The goals from Robin Quaison (1-3) and Oscar Hiljemark (1-4) may have flattered Sweden, however, they had played extremely well and fully deserve to be heading to the Eden Arena in Prague for a rematch with Portugal. The Swedish fans have certainly been amongst the best in the tournament, with their passionate renditions of the Swedish national anthem during this semi-final matching the passion we saw from their compatriots on the pitch.
Here’s Tactical Player Reports on the most impressive performers from the game.
Oscar Hiljemark led his team well and put in a great performance. The central midfielder kept things simple, ensuring that his defence was well-protected in the face of what many expected to be a Danish offensive onslaught. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, a player Pep Guardiola rates very highly, was to be the key man for what most people expected to be a Denmark win in this Scandinavian derby. Over the 90 minutes, Hiljemark had a considerable impact on how things turned out.
Hiljemark, together with his team-mates, had kept Højbjerg quiet throughout the match. Much was expected of the Bayern starlet but we saw little of him as a goal threat. Whenever he received the ball, there would be a Swede or two closing him down. It was often Oscar Hiljemark. With Højbjerg ability at shooting from distance, Hiljemark’s assertive management of the space in front of his centrebacks Alexander Milošević and Filip Helander was key.
On the ball, Hiljemark kept things simple, electing to pass instead of running with the ball. The PSV Eindhoven man and his midfield partner Oscar Lewicki were the base for Sweden’s counter-attacks, with Hiljemark playing the 2nd highest number of accurate long balls (4 out of 7 attempted) across all outfield players. He also played 2 key passes, behind only Abdul Khalili’s 4. The most extravagant and adventurous play from Hiljemark came moments before the final whistle – on the counter, he ran the length of the pitch to score Sweden’s 4th goal of the night.
It was the performance of a real leader from the Sweden U21 captain.
Having started the tournament on the bench, Simon Tibbling has now clearly played his way into a starting role. Usually a holding midfielder at club level, he has shone in a more offensive role on the left and right. The Groningen midfielder played on the left against Portugal, scoring the crucial equaliser that sent Sweden through to the semi-finals ahead of Italy. Against Denmark, Tibbling was brilliant, bringing the energy and dynamism that Sweden needed to beat their fellow Scandinavians.
Tibbling’s ability to play in holding midfield was evident against Denmark, with a 95.5% pass success rate showing his ability to aid his team in retaining possession of the ball. In the group stage, he averaged an impressive 89.3% in this aspect of his game. It was, however, what he did when on the ball that was truly impressive. Playing on the right, Tibbling had the freedom to drift across the pitch. He was an effervescent presence in midfield for Sweden.
Displaying confidence in his ability, Tibbling took the game to the Danes at every opportunity. He clearly has more to his game than playing solely in holding midfield. The young Swede impressed with his close control, creativity and intelligence, often receiving the ball in dangerous positions to hurt Denmark. He also combined well with right back Victor Lindelöf, who was a seemingly constant presence in the opposition half for much of the 1st half. His goal, to make it 0-2, came with a composed finish to a move on the counter-attack.
With the way he has been performing, Simon Tibbling could be set for a move this summer. His versatility and well-rounded skill set makes him a player well worth keeping an eye on.
Comfortably one of the best players on the pitch in this semi-final. Operating alongside captain Oscar Hiljemark, they formed a formidable defensive shield in front of their defence. Lewicki often dropped into defence to either get on the ball or to add an extra body.
He kept the ball well, logging a passing accuracy of 87.1, and started many of Sweden’s counter-attacks with long passes from deep. Defensively, Lewicki got stuck in whenever he needed to, making a game high number of 5 tackles.
Moving between defence and midfield, Lewicki ensured that his side were well-covered in defensive areas. He also ensured that Sweden retained possession well and started attacks from his deep-lying position. Oscar Lewicki was key in the creating the platform for his team-mates to shine.
John Guidetti was a constant thorn in Denmark’s side throughout the hour he played. He got on the scoresheet after 23 minutes, calmly scoring from the penalty spot. Alongside Isaac Kiese Thelin, Guidetti pressed the Danish trio Andreas Christensen, Jens Jønsson (holding midfielder dropping into defence) and Jannik Vestergaard whenever they approached the Sweden half, preventing them from easily playing the ball. In attack, Guidetti ran the channels well as he looked to create chances for his team-mates.
In the build-up to Sweden’s 2nd goal, Guidetti made a good run down the left flank and was picked out by Kiese Thelin. Guidetti then ran at the Denmark defence, cutting inward from the left. Good decision-making was evident in all aspects of this move, from Kiese Thelin to Guidetti to Tibbling. Guidetti made the assist by cleverly squaring the ball across the edge of the box to Tibbling, who had made a run from deep.
John Guidetti was a key presence up front, making the most of Sweden’s counter-attacking opportunities. Guidetti was a crucial “out ball” option for his team-mates and his absence was keenly felt after his substitution. Sweden were penned in their own half by Denmark and were noticeably without an “out ball” until Robin Quaison was introduced.
In Sweden’s 4-4-2 set-up, John Guidetti has been an all-action forward. He has dropped deep when required, ran the channels to create chances as well as played on the shoulder of the last defender. More than that, Guidetti has been the symbol of Sweden in this tournament. The fight, desire and bullish impudence that Guidetti has displayed has characterised this Sweden side’s efforts to succeed where others have expected them to fail.
After having being kept quiet, in the 2nd half, we saw a Denmark take the game more aggressively to Sweden. At the heart of the good Danish attacking moves was Uffe Bech. Playing on the right of Denmark’s 4-2-3-1, Bech was the player that looked most likely to score for Denmark.
Defensively, Uffe Bech worked hard. He often had to track Sweden left back Agustinsson’s forward runs. Bech ended the match having made the 2nd highest number of tackles (4) across all 22 players.
Bech’s efforts eventually paid off. He scored what turned out to be Denmark’s only goal of the game. There was luck in the build-up, with the ball falling to Bech after Victor Lindelöf’s poor clearance in the 2nd phase of a set piece situation. The Dane’s finish, however, had nothing to do with luck. After good control with his chest, Bech shot early, flicking the ball towards the onrushing Patrik Calgren’s goal. It was an improvised shot, using the outside of his left boot, and went in at the far post. He kept trying to make something happen for Denmark, as the threat of their most important player – Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – had been neutralised by Sweden.
More U-21 European Championship 2015 reading here.
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