Sweden started the U21 Euros as rank outsiders and very few people (myself included) would have tipped them to get out of the group stage, let alone reach the final and then win it. It is a huge achievement for them, and all credit must go to their coaching staff and the players for never giving up when it must’ve seemed that everyone was against them.
The first half of the match was very one-sided with Portugal were rampaging down the wings and generally looking the more likely of the teams to score but with little end product. William Carvalho was the midfield powerhouse you’d expect him to be whilst the Swedish defence were giving a masterclass about the offside trap, constantly catching Cavaleiro offside whenever he tried to play off the shoulder of the last man.
The second half was a very different game to the first with Sergio Oliveria being taken off early into the second half, a move which baffled me as I thought he was one of the better players for Portugal, and almost scored with a delightful free kick early on in the match. William Carvalho switched from playing fantastically to looking bored and uninterested, with little movement or desire to win the ball. The game opened up a lot more as both sides got tired and Sweden were unlucky not to open the scoring with a few good chances.
Once again the Swedish fans were in full voice roaring on the Blågult, and the penalty shootout being taken in the goal in front of them surely must have helped the Swedes over the line. A fantastic victory and one I’m sure all the players will cherish.
Here’s a tactical report on some of the standout performers from the final (in no particular order!)
Whilst Portugal only had 3 shots on target, I still came away impressed by Carlgren. It takes a lot of mental concentration to be a goalkeeper, especially in a match where you are massive underdogs and under an almost relentless siege. His co-ordination of the defence was superb as he kept them organised and compact leaving himself with little to do.
Because of the organisation of the defence, it meant that Portugal were reduced to shooting from range and his positioning for all of the shots from outside the box was absolutely perfect and I’m confident that if more of them were on target, he would have been able to deal with them without a problem. He ended a superb night with 2 great penalty saves to his name, both from well placed penalties. A confident performance and I’d expect to see him make the senior Swedish squad very soon.
As with the semi-final game, Lewicki joined up with Hiljemark in the centre of the Swedish midfield, acting as a shield for the defence. They excelled, which funnelled Portugal down the flanks for most of their attacks (which the Swedes were happy to do, forcing the cross for the huge centre-backs to deal with). Not only were they both outnumbered in the middle, they also had to deal with one of the players of the tournament in Bernardo Silva who was constantly trying to find space and trying to run at the Swedish defence. Lewicki took it all in his stride, ending the game with a total of 5 tackles, the highest of any player in the match, along with 2 interceptions.
He also was the main distributor whenever Sweden were on the ball, attempting a total of 66 passes with a pass accuracy of 86.4%, the highest of any Swedish player who attempted more than 10 passes. He varied his play quite a lot to try and make the Swedish game-plan less predictable, often he played short passes, however he also tried to mix it up by creating potential counter-attacks with a Swedish outfield player high of 10 long-balls played. One of the tournament’s biggest surprises I can imagine clubs across Europe taking a long look at Lewicki over the next few months.
The tricky 20 year old may not have been at his usual standard on the day (due to the above mentioned defensive masterclass by the Swedish midfield), and he had to change his gameplan slightly. Instead of trying to take players on, he instead turned into an outlet for recycling possession, which he did fantastically. He’d drop deeper or roam to the flanks to receive the ball, dragging one of the Swedish midfield pair across with him before playing a safe ball into the resulting space he’d just created. Whilst watching him, it reminded me of a certain Spanish midfielder named Xavi, alongside the semi-famous quote that he once said “I get the ball, I pass the ball. I get the ball, I pass the ball”. He, like Xavi, excelled at this, ending up with the highest pass accuracy of the match (95.2%) creating 2 chances.
It takes great maturity to notice when things aren’t going to go your way and to adapt to that, and I’m sure the Portuguese players had belief that they could win whenever he got near the ball.
The Swedish left-back certainly showed why Liverpool are reportedly interested in his services in a sensational performance. As already discussed, the Swedish game-plan was to force the play down the flanks, this obviously meant that the full-backs had to at their best to try and contain the Portuguese threat. Portugal probed Augustinsson’s side a few times early on, but had little luck in besting him. It then seemed as if Portugal decided to write off attacking down his flank, switching to the right side of Sweden’s defence instead.
This allowed Augustinsson to push forward a bit, where he linked up well with Khalili causing dangerous overloads as Portugal were playing a very narrow formation, the 2 of them doubled up well on the Portugese right-back, with the pair providing 11 crosses between them, more than the rest of the Swedish team combined. Portugal looked to change their formation slightly after 60 minutes in an attempt to both create more and to nullify the danger that Augustinsson and Khalili were causing.
The change meant Augustinsson was tested a bit more defensively, but he coped fantastically with a match high of 4 interceptions as well as 2 tackles. He showed that he could read the game well and had great strength to shield the ball from any Portuguese attempts to try and grab a corner. He ended a great match with a fantastically placed penalty, that was pretty much un-savable.
Portugal started the game with a midfield diamond, which meant it was down to the full-backs to provide the width. Guerreiro ran his socks off to link up with either Bernardo Silva or Cavaleiro before exchanging a quick series of passes then either being played through himself or playing someone else through into the box. He often made runs into more central areas throughout the game to either create a passing option or as an attempt to create space for his team-mates to exploit.
Defensively he didn’t have too much to do, but he carried out his defensive duties comfortably when it was asked of him, including a fantastic moment where he headed the ball to keep it from going off, his momentum carried him off the pitch whilst the ball fell nicely to Tibbling. Not one to stop battling, Guerreiro caught up with Tibbling, dispossessed him and carried on the attack.
Guerreiro ended the match with 4 key passes (a pass that leads to a shot), a match high. He also ended up with a 89.4% pass accuracy percentage, which is impressive considering how many passes and crosses he made in the final third (where the ball is most often lost).
More U-21 European Championship 2015 reading here.
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