Sweden are warming up nicely. Inaugural European champions in England in 1984, the pre-tournament favourites saved their strongest group display until the last to plunder Portugal and seal top spot in Group C on goal difference from the Netherlands. Belgium, Italy or Iceland await in the next round and Peter Gerhardsson’s team will fear no one.
Portugal have grown and entertained at this competition and richly deserved their lap of honour after the final whistle, but had no answer to the power, movement and cutting edge of Sweden on a sweltering evening in Leigh.
Sweden have reached the quarter-final or better on each of their 11 appearances at the Euros and will be confident of going further on this evidence. “We are very strong and it is difficult to play against us,” Gerhardsson said.
“I think the third match was a factor that worked to our advantage. It meant Portugal didn’t have as much time to organise properly to attack us. I’m happy that we won the game and also that we won 5-0 to win the group.”
Sweden initially did not show their level as the second-ranked team in the world, the contest was too error-strewn for that, but improved throughout and were comfortably en route to winning the group by half-time. An ominous sign for their rivals.It was always asking a lot of Portugal to produce an upset and qualify but the manner of defeat irked coach Francisco Neto nevertheless.
Neto had spoken of Portugal’s need to improve their defending at set-pieces following Wednesday’s defeat by the Dutch and changed his goalkeeper in response to Inês Pereira’s problems in the 3-2 loss. Her replacement, Patrícia Morais, brought no improvement and was twice found wanting at corners that enabled the Swedes to establish a three goal interval lead.
“We defended Sweden well in possession,” said the Portugal coach, who describing his goalkeeper switch as “strategic”. “But at this level every detail counts and it was very hard for us to stop the set-pieces of Sweden. This is one element we have to improve.”
Sweden started brightly with Kosovare Asllani, captaining the side in the absence of the injured Caroline Seger, appealing in vain for a first minute penalty following a strong but clean challenge by Ana Borges. Portugal’s most capped player also proved one of their most versatile. She led the attack against the Netherlands and started at left-back here before switching to right-back after Catarina Amado was stretchered off with a foot injury as a result of a dangerous foul by Johanna Rytting Kaneryd. Amado would leave the stadium on crutches.
Morais saved well from Johanna Rytting Kaneryd when the winger was played through by Filippa Angeldal. The keeper’s next involvement was less convincing. When Jonna Andersson’s corner landed in the six yard box Morais connected with both fists but failed to get distance on the punch. The clearance dropped to Angeldal, who made no mistake from 12 yards. That was Sweden’s first goal from a set-piece at the tournament but the fourth that Portugal had conceded out of six in total. A fifth would arrive on the stroke of half-time.
Stina Blackstenius thought she had doubled Sweden’s lead in style with a convincing finish from Asllani’s back-heel but was ruled offside. The second arrived from more intelligent play from Asllani who, having been fouled near the byline by Jessica Silva, pulled the resulting free-kick away from a crowded penalty area and into the path of Angeldal. Ghosting in unmarked, the central midfielder swept her second goal into the far corner.
A cooling break in the stifling heat plus a procession of injuries resulted in seven minutes stoppage time in the first half. It was enough time for Sweden to prey on Portugal’s set-piece vulnerabilities again. Morais stayed fixed to her line when Andersson floated another corner in from the right. Amid the uncertainty the ball struck Portugal centre-half Carole Costa and bobbled over the line.
Portugal never threatened a repeat of their comebacks against Switzerland or the Netherlands as Sweden’s powerful defence contained the dangerous Diana Silva and Francisca Nazareth. Gerhardsson’s side made it four from a penalty when Diana Gomes was penalised for handball. The excellent Asllani got the goal her performance merited with a precise spot-kick inside Morais’ left hand corner.
The unfortunate Blackstenius converted a fifth with a looping header but a lengthy VAR review, and another offside decision, denied her for a second time. She vented her frustration superbly in stoppage time when creating space inside the box for an unstoppable right foot finish into the top corner. Sweden cruised through.