By Samindra Kunti in Saint Petersburg
June 24 – Sweden claimed surprise top spot in Group E with a stoppage time winner from Viktor Claesson in a 3-2 victory over Poland to eliminate Paulo Sousa’s disappointing team from the continental finals.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” said Sweden coach Janne Andersson. “We won the group at the World Cup and we’ve done it again now. We created the situation where we could do well, but you have to take your chances. The players are warriors; they’re fantastic. They sacrifice themselves for each other and the whole team deserves praise.”
In the second minute, Emil Forsberg handed Sweden a dream start when he drove home an assist from Alexander Isak. It was his team’s only attempt on target in the first half and Poland must have been desperate, knowing Sweden had conceded just once in 2021.
The Polish recovered slowly and they were left to rue one of the finest opportunities you will ever see in football when Robert Lewandowski rattled the woodwork twice in succession before the ball got under his and Grzegorz Krychowiak’s legs for Mikael Lustig to clear. Poland fashioned one more chance before the break, but Robin Olssen did well to tip Piotr Zielinski’s rasping attempt from the edge of the box over.
The Polish were in charge, but they needed to manage what they had not done in their previous 13 Euro matches: score at least twice. They did, but it would still not be enough to progress. Sousa’s team generated pressure, but struggled to create space and chances inside the Sweden box. The industrious Zielinski attempted some more, but the goal arrived at the other end in screeching style when Sweden exploited the space in behind Poland’s high lines. Substitute Dejan Kulusevski covered half of the pitch before teeing up Forsberg whose suave finish left Wojciech Szczęsny no chance.
Poland were down and out, it seemed, but two minutes later Lewandowski replied in magnificent style with a screaming curler to reduce the deficit from a Zielinski assist. Poland threw the kitchen sink, playing with an intensity they had previously not shown. And still, with hope fading, Lewandowski was not finished. From close range, he equalized in the 84th minute, the hard work done by Zielinski who drew both of Sweden’s central defenders out of position. But there was to be no grandstand finish and late qualification for the Poles. Instead, Sweden countered with precision again for Claesson to find the winner from an acute angle.
Sweden will go on to play Ukraine in the round of sixteen. In the Group’s other match, Spain thrashed Slovakia 5-0 to set up a round of sixteen match with Croatia in Copenhagen.
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