If Tuesday's first knockout game at Euro 2020 was billed as a battle to secure a straightforward run to the final, the late kick-off was all about Ukraine and Sweden seizing an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

After overcoming their old rivals Germany at Wembley Stadium, England will be strongly favoured to reach the competition's showpiece by progressing through the kindest side of the draw.

Yet every other nation alongside them will also sense the possibility of making history at a tournament that has already seen its fair share of upsets.

It is Ukraine who will get the chance to shock the Three Lions in Rome on Saturday, having claimed a 2-1 win over Sweden with a goal in stoppage time of extra time.

And, though Andriy Shevchenko's side did not produce the most convincing of performances in winning, they showed enough to prove that they may yet keep a dream run going.

 

Two up top back in fashion

Strike pairings are often considered a relic of a bygone era but both Ukraine and Sweden started this game with two up top.

Swedish duo Alexander Isak and Emil Forsberg were arguably the more threatening throughout, with the latter in particular continuing his remarkable tournament.

The RB Leipzig midfielder took six shots - twice as many as any other player on the pitch managed - across the 120 minutes as he led the way. Those attempts returned one goal - Forsberg's fourth of the competition - but he would have been celebrating a victory had two fine efforts not cannoned back off the post in the second half.

As for Ukraine, they began with captain Andriy Yarmolenko alongside Roman Yaremchuk, and both showed why they might cause problems for opponents deeper into the competition.

The pair laid on a shot apiece for each other across their time on the pitch together, while Yarmolenko picked out a beauty of an assist for Oleksandr Zinchenko's opening goal.

That meant the West Ham man has now been directly involved in five goals for Ukraine at major tournaments (2 goals, 3 assists); the joint-most of any player for the country, along with his current manager Shevchenko (5).

As for Shevchenko the tactician, he was rewarded for sticking to his guns by keeping men in the Swedish box as Yarmolenko's replacement Artem Dovbyk headed home the winner.

England's defenders know they will have their hands full when they come up against Ukraine's forwards this weekend.

 

Lack of experience could hurt Ukraine

Prior to this outing, Ukraine had lost seven of their past eight European Championship games.

The only exception was the victory over minnows North Macedonia in their group that proved just enough to bring them to the knockout stages of this year's tournament.

Never before have the Ukrainians gone this deep at a Euros, nor have they ever done better than reaching the quarter-finals in World Cup history, doing so in 2006 when their manager Shevchenko was part of the squad a player.

That lack of experience and the extra minutes in the legs provided by extra time at Hampden Park will surely encourage England.

Gareth Southgate's side are aiming to follow up a World Cup semi-final in 2018 with another deep run at a major competition - know-how could be crucial.

Ukraine are not the only team still left standing who had to work overtime to progress, either. Their clash with Sweden was the fourth Euro 2020 last-16 tie to finish level at the end of 90 minutes (also Italy v Austria, Croatia v Spain and France v Switzerland), the most ever in a single knockout round.

Artem Dovbyk netted a last-gasp winner as Ukraine booked their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a thrilling 2-1 extra-time victory over Sweden at Hampden Park.

Ukraine broke the deadlock when a passing move just before the half hour found Oleksandr Zinchenko at the back post and his rasping half-volley was too strong for Robin Olsen.

Sweden equalised on the stroke of half-time through Emil Forsberg's deflected effort from distance and the striker twice hit the woodwork after the break.

Marcus Danielson was sent off in extra time and Ukraine made the extra man count when Zinchenko's cross was headed in from close range by substitute Dovbyk to set up a last-eight tie with England.

Sweden began with the greater intensity but it was Ukraine who carved out the first meaningful effort on goal when Roman Yaremchuk's low shot was kept out by the diving Olsen.

Alexander Isak dragged an effort wide of the post for Sweden before a slick Ukraine interchange culminated in Andriy Yarmolenko's deft cross with the outside of his boot which Zinchenko crisply finished.

Sweden almost hit back instantly when Sebastian Larsson's opportunistic curling free-kick from long distance had Georgi Bushchan scrambling across goal.

The leveller soon followed, Forsberg showing quick feet to create a shooting opportunity from outside the box as his strike took a defection off Illia Zabarnyi and flew beyond Bushchan.

Both sides struck the woodwork early in an open start to the second half as Larsson and Forsberg grazed the post either side of Serhiy Sydorchuk's shot which rebounded off it.

Bushchan produced a superb diving save to keep out a Dejan Kulusevski curling shot which seemed destined for the top corner before Forsberg jinked inside and bent another effort against the crossbar.

Kulusevski had a chance for Sweden at the end of normal time when he controlled a long ball but his angled shot was kept out by a last-ditch block from Oleksandr Karavaev.

Sweden's Danielson was sent off in extra time following a VAR review for a dangerous high tackle on Artem Besedin which left the Ukraine player unable to play any further part.

Spot-kicks loomed but Dovbyk popped up with the winner, heading in Zinchenko's cross from close range in injury time at the end of 120 minutes.

Andriy Shevchenko insists Ukraine have "nothing to lose" against Sweden as his side aim to reach the European Championship quarter-finals for the first time.

Ukraine's only previous appearance in the knockout stages of a major competition came at the 2006 World Cup when eliminating Switzerland before losing to Italy in the last eight.

The Eastern European nation hardly boast the best of records at the Euros, either, having lost seven of their last eight games.

However, a 2-1 win over North Macedonia, bookended by defeats to the Netherlands and Austria, proved enough for Ukraine to progress as one of the best third-placed sides.

Sweden await at Hampden Park on Tuesday and head coach Shevchenko believes his players can be proud whatever the result in Glasgow.

"We have travelled a long way to be here. We have achieved the result we wanted and have nothing to lose now," he said. "Everything else will be a big bonus for us.

"I think we played a good group stage. We played well against the Dutch and we put in a good performance against North Macedonia. Austria were very strong opponents. 

"But Sweden are well prepared tactically and have good individual players."

Sweden topped a group containing Spain, Poland and Slovakia to reach the knockouts of the Euros for a third time, having made it to the 1992 semi-finals and quarter-finals in 2004.

Despite coming through a difficult group with seven points from nine, Sweden boss Janne Andersson is taking nothing for granted against Ukraine.

"They are a good team; they know how to switch from defence to attack," he said. "They looked worn out against Austria, but like us they've had some rest – even more actually.

"After the last game I gathered the players and told them I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world than in that room with them."

 


KEY PLAYERS

Sweden – Emil Forsberg 

The RB Leipzig man has been one of the star performers of Euro 2020 so far, scoring the only goal against Slovakia from the penalty spot before netting twice against Poland.

It has been quite the turnaround for the 29-year-old, who has now scored four goals in his last four games for Sweden, following a previous run of 11 games without a goal.

Forsberg could yet write his name in Swedish football folklore, with Kennet Andersson (five) and Martin Dahlin (four) the only players to score more than three goals for the country in a single major tournament, both doing so at the 1994 World Cup.

Ukraine – Andriy Yarmolenko

West Ham forward Yarmolenko scored twice and assisted another during the group stage, including a 25-yard goal of the tournament contender in the 3-2 loss to the Netherlands.

No Ukraine player has ever been involved in more goals than Yarmolenko at a major tournament, level with team-mate Roman Yaremchuk, who has also played a big part in his side's progression to the last 16.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– This will be the fifth meeting between Sweden and Ukraine, with Sweden's only victory coming in a friendly in August 2011 (D1 L2).

– The last meeting between Sweden and Ukraine was at Euro 2012, with Ukraine coming from behind to win 2-1 thanks to a brace from current manager Shevchenko.

– Of the teams to reach the last 16 at Euro 2020, no side faced more shots on target in the group stages than Ukraine (16, level with Wales).

– Sweden made the fewest successful passes (591) and had the lowest passing accuracy (69.9 per cent) of any side in the group stages at Euro 2020. Of the teams to reach the last 16, they also had the lowest average possession rate (29.6 per cent).

– Sweden scored with 44 per cent of their shots on target in the group stages of Euro 2020 (4/9), with only Portugal having a higher such ratio of teams to reach the last 16 (50 per cent - 7/14).

Janne Andersson hailed the new, 'calmer' Emil Forsberg after his goals fired Sweden into the knockout stages of Euro 2020.

The RB Leipzig midfielder scored twice as the Swedes saw off a late Poland fightback to claim a 3-2 victory that sent them through as Group E winners.

Four of Forsberg's 12 goals for his country have come in 2021, and his manager puts that down to a recent change in temperament.

Andersson told Euro2020.com: "He's a bit calmer as a person. He's said himself that he feels more harmonious, and he's been better on the pitch.

"He's always been good with the national team, and it's great he can be the decisive factor for us."

Sweden had not conceded a goal at Euro 2020 coming into Wednesday's game but were breached twice as a Robert Lewandowski-inspired Poland fought back.

However, while Andersson is keen to see his side quickly eliminate that porousness, he was pleased with their fluency going forward.

"I think opponents think we're difficult to play against, and that's how it should be," he added.

"Poland's first goal was a fantastic piece of individual skill. [Lewandowski is] a skilful player – probably the best striker in the world right now – and he scored twice.

"We're a little disappointed with that, but we scored three.

"In the second half, we defended a little too deep. We'll have to look at the game again, analyse it and see what we can do better.

"Overall, I can't say I'm unhappy – but there are things we can improve on."

Sweden now have six days to prepare for their last-16 tie against Ukraine - news that comes as music to Andersson's ears.

"It's always good to have more time to prepare," he continued.

"The most important thing is recovery, getting fluids on board and helping the body recover. On Saturday, we'll start to think about who the opponent is going to be and creating more energy for the game."

As for Poland, captain Lewandowski lamented poor fortune for his country's group-stage exit.

The Bayern Munich man hit the bar twice in quick succession in a goalless first half and felt that somewhat summed up their tournament.

"We have been unlucky at this tournament. We had many chances to score but did not convert enough of them,” he said.

"And our rivals sometimes had half a chance and they scored. Me too — those two headers hit the crossbar.

"We are sad and disappointed. Maybe we were lacking quality somehow, but we gave all we had."

Sweden edged closer to the last 16 of Euro 2020 after a 1-0 victory over Slovakia in St Petersburg on Friday.

After beating Poland on matchday one, Stefan Tarkovic's side knew another victory would secure their place in the next round before their final group game with Spain.

But it was Sweden who produced more of a consistent attacking threat – certainly compared with their goalless draw with Spain, when they had just 15 per cent of the possession – as they sought to avoid going four consecutive European Championship games without scoring.

Alexander Isak was their most threatening player and it was the Real Sociedad striker's clever throughball that saw Robin Quaison fouled by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, allowing Emil Forsberg to win the contest from the penalty spot.

There was little ambition shown by either side in a first half in which the only shot on target occurred after three minutes, Sebastian Larsson's deflected effort from the edge of the box proving a comfortable save for Dubravka.

Slovakia enjoyed more of the possession but were not prepared to commit too many to the attack, while Sweden seemed content to wait for their chances.

Their first real openings came just before the hour mark. Ludwig Augustinsson's header from Larsson's cross was superbly saved by Dubravka, with Marcus Danielson nodding over from the resulting corner.

Isak at last came to life in the final 30 minutes, heading narrowly over before testing Dubravka with a good right-footed shot from the edge of the box after a strong run.

It was Isak's first-time pass that saw Dubravka commit and bring down Quaison, allowing Forsberg to slot home from 12 yards and end a 365-minute wait for a Sweden goal at the Euros, their last coming against the Republic of Ireland five years ago.
 

What does it mean? Sweden take charge of Group E

With four points from two games, Sweden will now go into their final group game with Poland in a strong position to reach the next round.

Slovakia stay on three points and will be overtaken by Spain should they defeat Poland, who must avoid defeat if they are to finish in the top two.

Isak at last provides the spark

After a deeply uninspiring first half, it was Sweden who began to take more risks after the interval as Isak became increasingly involved.

The striker completed six dribbles, the most by any player in a single game at this tournament, and provided the moment of inspiration that led to the penalty.

Slovakia pay for caution

Slovakia seemed to have the game more or less under control in the first half, but they did not match Sweden's improved intensity after the interval.

Their possession dropped from 61.4 per cent to 54.5 per cent from the first half to the second, while they failed to manage a shot on target throughout.

What's next?

Sweden face Poland in St Petersburg and Slovakia meet Spain in Seville, with each game on June 23.

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