Sweden finally hit top gear, just in time for the knockout rounds

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LEIGH, England — Every major tournament has a slow starter, a team that struggles to justify top billing until the pressure to deliver demands they live up to the hype, but Sweden finally clicked into gear at Euro 2022 to book their quarterfinal spot with a 5-0 win against Portugal.

While the outstanding group-stage performances of host nation England and eight-time European champions Germany have rightly earned the spotlight — both teams have a 100% winning record without conceding a goal so far — it was Sweden that went into this tournament as Europe’s highest-ranked nation. Only the United States sit above Sweden in the FIFA women’s world rankings, and Peter Gerhardsson’s team is stacked with players from leading clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona and German champions Wolfsburg.

Despite their pedigree, though, Sweden went into their final Group C game against Portugal still needing a positive result to secure a place in the knockout stages.

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A 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, the reigning champions, in the opening game was followed by a tense 2-1 victory against Switzerland in which Hanna Bennison‘s late goal sealed a much-needed win. But in both games, Sweden struggled to display the form that has them ranked second in the world. Still, their durability and resolve ensured they at least faced Portugal in Leigh with their qualification fate in their own hands.

Portugal, who were only confirmed as Euro 2022 participants at the beginning of May as a late replacement following Russia’s expulsion, have been a surprise package in the competition, with an opening-game draw against Switzerland and narrow 3-2 defeat against the Dutch ensuring they had an outside chance of qualification with a win against the Swedes. But it was clear from the start of this game, played in punishing heat of 32 degrees Celsius in the northwest, that there was a clear gulf in class between the two sides. Sweden were physically stronger, more skillful and better organised than their opponents, who sit at 30th in the world rankings.

The game started with a wave of Swedish attacks and continued in that manner, with the Scandinavians scoring at regular intervals to take complete control of the game, and ultimately, the group.

Portugal were able to hold out until the 21st minute, when a mistake by goalkeeper Patricia Morais gifted Filippa Angeldal the opening goal. Morais came to claim a corner, but dropped the ball in the 6-yard box, resulting in an easy finish for the Manchester City midfielder.

Angeldal then doubled Sweden’s lead on 45 minutes by finishing off a well-worked free-kick routine. Captain Kosovare Asllani looked set to send her set piece into the Portugal penalty area, but she instead pulled it back for the unmarked Angeldal, who scored with a first-time shot from the edge of the box.

Portugal lacked the quality to get back into the game with Sweden dominating in every area of the pitch, and following Angeldal’s second, it was a case of damage limitation for Francisco Neto’s team. By half-time, Portugal were 3-0 down after another failure by Morais to catch the ball from a corner resulted in an own-goal by Carole Costa.

Sweden at that point were in full control, with their group position only dependent on the outcome of the Netherlands-Switzerland game in Sheffield. But a comfortable win would ensure Sweden of top spot, and a quarterfinal at Leigh against Iceland, Italy or Belgium on Friday, so they pushed for more goals in the second half. They made it 4-0 on 53 minutes when Asllani scored from the penalty spot following a handball by Diana Gomes.

Stina Blackstenius saw a goal ruled out for offside as Sweden raised the tempo, but the Arsenal forward eventually got her name on the scoresheet in the 90th minute after breaking into the Portugal penalty area before beating Morais with a right-footed strike from 15 yards.

With a top spot secured in Group C, Sweden is assured to avoid France in the last eight, and they will be heavily favored in their quarterfinal tie, whoever they face later this week.

And after Sunday’s ruthless display, Sweden can now build the momentum needed to win this tournament for the first time since 1984.

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