Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sweden begin with a bang

UEFA u21 Championship
FT Sweden 5:1 Belarus


Malmo - The hosts announced themselves in style with a 5-1 mauling of Belarus in Malmo. In a tournament of mostly up and coming footballers, Sweden boast someSweden v Belarus. heavy armoury in the form of their forward pair of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen, two aces honed in Holland's Eredivisie.

Berg, who plies his trade at FC Groningen, bagged a hat-trick and caused havoc for the Belarus back line all afternoon with his intelligent off the ball running. Some debut. Whenever the yellow jerseys poured forward in attack, there was Berg, clear of his marker, waiting for a killer pass. His telepathic understanding with Toivonen, of PSV, must be cut off by Sweden's forthcoming opponents if they want to derail the hosts' path to the trophy.

The fireworks in Malmo took a long time arriving however. For the first half hour, the host nation appeared much like the venue, Malmo New Stadium, a giant Ikea-like essay in dark minimalism, functional and well-designed, but lacking zest in the final product.

The Swedes kept their classic 4-4-2 shape well and pressed in numbers when Belarus had the ball, but had forgotten how to forge openings. The East Europeans by contrast played 4-2-3-1 and attacked more directly, but their lack of patience led to a plethora of mis-telegraphed final balls.

Finally an attack of note arrived after 30 minutes of torpor. The Swedish front pair played wall passes into the box before the raiding left winger Emir Barjami toe-poked his finish just wide of the post.

Barjami's near miss should have inspired the Swedes but instead it was Belarus who snatched the lead three minutes later when Sergei Kislyak let rip from 25 yards, bulging the hosts' net. Now Sweden woke up and Toivonen tapped over an inviting net from a whipped-in cross from Berg. Their wait for parity was not long. Three minutes after the opener, Rasmus Elm took his cue from Kislyak and beat the despairing Pavel Chesnovski with a copycat long-range missile, the ball taking a deflection off Aleksandr Martynovich.

Less than two minutes later, the game was turned on its head. Berg took a return pass from Barjami and waltzed past three white shirts to beat Chesnovski again. 2-1 to Sweden.

Berg then grabbed his second and Sweden's third two minutes before the break, easily losing his marker Dmitri Verkhovtsov to latch onto Toivonen's through ball and sidefoot past the luckless Chesnovski.

An opening stanza which began with a whimper and ended with four bangs. 3-1 to Sweden at half time.

The second half had fewer pleasantries than the first, both teams wasting no time in getting stuck in. Beyond the scrapping, Sweden carved out the better chances. Toivonen, benefiting again from his understanding with Berg, came close a couple of times while Elm chipped Chesnovzki in the 66th but just wide of the upright.

Nine minutes before the end it was all over as Berg raced on to a through-ball from Gustav Svensson and collided with Chesnovski, the Groningen marksman getting the better of the Belarus goalie for the third time as the ball rolled into an unguarded net.


Berg should have scored his fourth in the 88th but Chesnovski got his hands to his diving header. Then Svensson hit the top corner from 25 yards to make it 5-1, a thrashing. Belarus won 56% of possession but were well-beaten in the end, a fact midfielder Leonid Kovel acknowledged when he slammed the ball angrily into the crowd with three minutes to go.

That the hosts are a contender is good for the tournament as a whole, but England and the others must keep a close eye on Berg & Toivonen when they play them. Belarus were no great shakes all things considered, but Sweden have begun with a bang.

"We expected a bit more from Belarus," Berg said afterwards, "but we stayed good in our positions. It's really fun to play here in Sweden and the crowd supported us from the beginning."

"For the first 35 mins the teams were playing equally," Belarus coach Yuri Kurnenin explained, "but then something happened I cannot even explain – three goals. We left spaces when we attacked which the Swedes exploited when they counter attacked. The Swedes were more organized and more willing to win the game which was reflected in the result."

Swedish assistant coach Jorgen Lennartsson cited his team's equaliser as the game's fulcrum:
"It was a mentally important situation," he told reporters. "We were not 100% confident but we got the energy from the 1-1 goal and controlled the rest of the match. I think this victory should be for the coaches of the Allsvenskan for their work with these playrs. They have developed the players on the training fields every day so I’d like to dedicate this victory to them."

Sweden tackle Italy on Friday while Belarus play Serbia.

Scoring:
BEL- Kislyak 33'
SWE-Martynovich o.g. 34'
SWE- Berg 38'
SWE- Berg 44'
SWE- Berg 81'
SWE- Svensson 89'

SWE: Johan Dahlin, Mikael Lustig, Mattias Bjarsmyr, Rasmus Bengtsson, Emil Johansson, Ola Tovoinen (Labinot Harbuzi 84'), Marcus Berg, Gustav Svensson (Andreas Landgren 90'), Rasmus Elm, Pontus Wernbloom, Emir Bajrami (Guillermo Molins 71')

BEL: Pavel Chesnovski, Nicolai Osipovich, Aleksandr Martynovich, Igor Shitov, Sergei Krivets (Vladimir Yurchenko 78'), Aleksandr Volodko, Leonid Kovel, Dmitri Komarovski (Anton Putilo 53'), Mikhail Afanasiev (Andrei Chukhlei 53'), Sergei Kislyak, Dmitri Verkhovtsov.
Att: 14,623

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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