ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Sweden moved to the top of Group E with a 1-0 win over Slovakia on Friday after Emil Forsberg scored their first goal of the European Championship from the penalty spot to put the Scandinavian side on track for the knockouts.
In a game short of clear-cut chances, Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka tripped Robin Quaison in the second half and Forsberg beat him from the resulting penalty to end a 365-minute run without a goal for Sweden at the Euros.
The winger told SVT broadcaster that the first half was only “half-okay”. “In the second we played the ball up, we created a little more pressure. A great action by Robin Quaison to win the penalty, fantastic to score it,” he added.
Sweden, who last reached the knockout stage in 2004, lead the group with four points from two games, one ahead of Slovakia in their second successive Euros as an independent nation.
Spain, who have one point, play bottom side Poland on Saturday. The final round of Group E fixtures – Sweden v Poland and Slovakia v Spain – will be played on Wednesday.
Both teams threatened from set pieces early in the first half but Slovakia’s Juraj Kucka and Sweden’s Mikael Lustig saw headers sail over the bar.
Sweden were compact at the back, as they were against Spain in their goalless opener, and it was centre back Victor Lindelof initiating attacks with his distribution from a high defensive line, at times camped in Slovakia’s half.
Slovakia switched to a five-man defence when they were out of possession, frustrating the Swedes who were unable to string passes in the final third while Slovakia’s defence easily won the aerial duels.
Slovakia eventually made inroads towards the end of the first half as Sweden retreated but they lacked the creativity to make the final pass count and the first 45 minutes ended with neither goalkeeper tested.
Sweden started the second half on the front foot, with Alexander Isak and Forsberg having shots blocked.
At the other end, Ondrej Duda found space to pull the trigger at the edge of the box but saw his shot fly inches over the crossbar.
Sweden’s Ludwig Augustinsson brought the crowd to life at the hour mark when he directed a powerful header on target but he was denied by a fine reflex save from Dubravka, who tipped it over the bar.
Isak then turned things up a notch, leaping high to win a header which drifted agonisingly over before nifty footwork allowed him to make solo run from his own half past three defenders to curl an effort that was parried away by Dubravka.
The 21-year-old Isak turned provider in the 76th minute releasing substitute Quaison, who drew a foul from Dubravka in the box for the penalty.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Andrew Cawthorne)