SOCCER

Sweden dominate Portugal, kicking into high gear at the Euros just in time for the Round of 16

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LEIGH, England — Every major tournament has a slow starter, a team struggling to justify top billing until the pressure to meet demands matched the hype, but Sweden finally clicked on at Euro 2022 to reserve their place in the quarter-finals with a 5-0 victory against Portugal.

While the outstanding group stage performances of hosts England and eight-time European champions Germany have deservedly caught the eye – both sides have a 100 per cent winning record without conceding a goal so far – it was Sweden who took part in this tournament as the highest ranked nation in Europe. Only the United States are above Sweden in the FIFA Women’s World Ranking, and Peter Gerhardsson’s squad is made up of players from top clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona and the United States. German champions from Wolfsburg.

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Despite their pedigree, Sweden went into their final Group C game against Portugal still needing a positive result to secure a place in the Round of 16.

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A 1-1 draw with defending champions Netherlands in the opener was followed by a tense 2-1 victory over Switzerland in which Hanna Bennison’s late goal sealed a victory well deserved. But in both games, Sweden struggled to display the form that puts them second in the world. Still, their durability and determination allowed them to at least face Portugal in Leigh with their qualifying fate in their own hands.

Portugal, who were only confirmed as Euro 2022 participants in early May as a late substitute after Russia were expelled, were a surprise in the competition, with an opening draw against Switzerland and a narrow 3-2 defeat against the Dutch. they had an outside chance of qualification with a victory against the Swedes. But it was clear from the start of this match, played in sweltering 32 degrees Celsius heat in the north-west, that there was a clear chasm of class between the two teams. Sweden were physically stronger, more skilful and better organized than their opponents, who sit 30th in the world rankings.

The match started with a flurry of Swedish attacks and continued in this fashion, with the Scandinavians scoring at regular intervals to take full control of the game and ultimately the group.

Portugal held on until the 21st minute, when an error by goalkeeper Patricia Morais gave Filippa Angeldal the first goal. Morais came in to claim a corner but dropped the ball in the penalty area which provided an easy finish for the Manchester City midfielder.

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

Portugal lacked the quality to get back into the game with Sweden dominating in all areas of the pitch, and after Angeldal’s second it was a case of damage limitation for Francisco Neto’s side. At half-time, Portugal trailed 3-0 after another failure by Morais to grab the ball from a corner kick that ended in a Carole Costa own goal.

By then Sweden had full control, with their position in the group depending only on the outcome of the Netherlands-Switzerland game in Sheffield. But a comfortable victory would ensure Sweden top spot and a Leigh quarter-final against Iceland, Italy or Belgium on Friday, so they pushed for more second-half goals. They made it 4-0 in the 53rd minute when Asllani scored from the penalty spot following a handball from Diana Gomes.

Stina Blackstenius saw a goal ruled out for offside as Sweden picked up the pace, but the Arsenal striker finally got her name on the scoresheet in the 90th minute after bursting into Portugal’s penalty area before beating Morais with a right-footed strike from 15 yards out.

With a secure top spot in Group C, Sweden are guaranteed to avoid France in the last eight, and they will be heavily favored in the quarter-finals regardless of their opponents later this week.

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

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