Sweden 3-2 Poland: Swedes survive late scare to book place in last 16

SWEDEN survived a late scare against Poland to become the latest country to book their place in the knockout rounds of Euro 2020 after coming out on top of a thrilling encounter in Russia.

It took just 85 seconds for the Swedes to gain the advantage in St Petersburg. A host of yellow shirts swarmed forward menacingly with barely a minute on the clock as the ball was worked to Real Sociedad striker Aleksandar Isak. The centre-forward’s first touch let him down as he received the ball on the edge of the area but Emile Forsberg was on hand to capitalise on the disruption, collecting the loose ball and driving into the box before drilling a powerful shot past Wojciech Szczesny and into the bottom corner.

It would have been understandable if that early set-back knocked the stuffing out of Poland but it had the opposite effect as they redoubled their efforts. Robert Lewandowski spurned two glorious chances in quick succession with 15 minutes played; a superb corner met the head of the Bayern Munich man, who forced the ball downwards only to watch it ricochet off the underside of the bar. It fell invitingly into the centre-forward’s path just a couple of yards out but somehow, he contrived to strike the crossbar once again.

They would be made to pay for Lewandowski’s uncharacteristic profligacy. Sweden’s tight-knit defence meant that the Poles were reduced to speculative shots from distance, with Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski and Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak both testing Robin Olson with stinging 25-yard drives either side of the interval.

Then, just as it looked like Poland might draw themselves level, Forsberg grabbed his second of the afternoon. A superb driving run from substitute Dejan Kulusevski sowed havoc in the Polish rearguard, and Forsberg was at hand to stroke the ball home to double the Swedes’ lead.

Those watching on could have been forgiven for assuming that was that but Poland responded in the best possible fashion within minutes. Hitting their opponents on the counter with the defence stretched, Zielinski threaded a wonderful ball through to Lewandowski that sent the talisman charging into open space on the left. He took a touch inside before curling the ball through the despairing challenges of the onrushing defenders as it looped over the helpless Olsen and nestled in the goal.

Substitute Jakub Swierczok had the ball in the net moments later after he turned in Lewandowski’s inviting cut-back across the face of goal but the linesman correctly raised his flag as the 28-year-old drifted into an offside position.

That strike may have been chopped off but with five minutes of normal time remaining, Lewandowski set the stage for a frantic finale. Przemyslaw Frankowski whipped it in to a dangerous area and the striker did what he does best, steering the ball home to give his nation a chance of making it out the group.

One goal was all it would take to keep Poland’s hopes alive and they knew it. Manager Paulo Sousa urged his players forward from the sidelines as they searched in vain for a late winner. Lewandowski came closest when his cross-cum-shot had to be tipped wide of goal but in truth, Olsen wasn’t tested too severely during the game’s denouement.

There was still time for Sweden to strike the killer blow though, and Viktor Claesson did just that in the 94th minute. The Swedes burst forward on the counter, catching the Poles cold, and Kuslevski was once again at the heart of it. The Juventus midfielder carried the ball forward before nudging it into the path of his onrushing fellow substitute, and Claesson kept his composure to stroke the ball home and confirm Sweden’s status as group winners.

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